‘Mayans MC’ Cast On the Power of Playing Bilingual & Bicultural Characters on TV

Photo by Prashant Gupta. Courtesy of FX

The artwork for the new season of Mayans M.C. is a colorful blend of Mayan iconography and motorcycle imagery. Against a red background and featuring Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo), the poster is dominated by drawn Mayan images — including what looks like Quetzalcoatl. No simple nod to the title of this Sons of Anarchy spin-off, these Mesoamerican cultural nods are embedded, in fact, in the FX show’s very essence. For co-creator Elgin James, their belief that “the way to go to heaven was to die a violent death” is central to how he first approached this story about a motorcycle club in the fictional town of Santo Padre.”One of the things that I love,” James told Remezcla at the red carpet for the second season premiere, “is that when a warrior would die, they’d give them food in their casket and they’d give them weapons so they can travel all the different levels at Xibalba and make it to heaven. And I thought that was like, so beautiful.” As the story of EZ, his brother (played by Clayton Cardenas), and the mystery surrounding their mother deepens in season two, such mythic undertones inform what’s always been an epic story about family.

With episode titles like “Xbalanque” and “Xaman-Ek,” this bordertown tale about Mexican cartels and rebel groups, U.S.-based motorcycle clubs and shifty D.E.A. agents, very much straddles the line between two cultures that are deeply enmeshed in one another. Calling forth a civilization that precedes the very border it’s set on, Mayans M.C. embodies a mixing and mingling of Mexican-American cultures.

“This year we spend more time in Mexico,” Pardo told Remezcla. “So what we’re really doing is just spending more time in the homeland, where it was all created—where the characters have come from. So you can see the culture that they’ve taken, but then they’re also growing up and based in America, right? So it becomes more like a Chicano thing; it becomes more of like Latin American. So it’s a fusion of those of those cultures. It’s really incredible.”

That fusion comes through in the bilingual vibe of the show. One that, as many of the actors shared on the red carpet, is one of the things that make them most proud about being part of Mayans M.C. Gino Vento, who plays the head of security for the Galindo cartel on the show, shared that being able to speak unaccented English on the show is a rarity he really enjoys. “I love it. Because you’ll go and audition somewhere and they’re like, Oh, that was great. Can you do that in an accent? And it’s like, What’s that mean? Like, what’s an accent? Like British? Australian? It’s like, no, like a Mexican accent. So, you know, we don’t all talk however Hollywood or the industry has made it seem like we do. So it’s really cool on this show that we just speak the way we speak. It’s such a relief to be in such an authentic environment.”
JD Pardo as EZ Reyes in ‘Mayans M.C.’ Season 2, Episode 1. Photo by Prashant Gupta. Courtesy of FX
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For Danny Pino, who plays Miguel Galindo, seeing various pages in Spanish in the script was both exciting and daunting. “Up until this point, pretty much maybe 90% of the work I’ve done has been in English,” he said. “And it’s like, yeah, I’ve spoken Spanish my whole life. Yeah, I understand it fine. Yeah, I can read it, you know. But can you play this character and speak Spanish? That was amazing because it was like putting on a pair of shoes I’d never worn before, but it felt perfect.”

For others, those shoes could feel quite ill-fitting. After all, while the cast features fluent Spanish speakers like Venezuelan actress Carla Baratta and Antonio Jaramillo, it also includes those that, like Emilio Rivera (who’s reprising his Sons of Anarchy role yet again for the Mayans’ second season), admit that they struggle with the amount of Spanish the script demands. “I lost Spanish over the years,” he confessed, making it harder for him to learn his lines. It all speaks to the border town environment Mayans M.C. is so keen on capturing, where everyone’s fluency in both languages depends on one’s family, one’s ideas about assimilation, and sometimes even one’s professional requirements. Which is not to say some in the cast don’t wish the show went further.

“I wish we did more Spanish,” Jaramillo added. “That’s my personal taste. I think we should do a lot more. The club is ourselves, because it also brings us back, back to the Mayan culture. And we can go back even further. Maybe even at one point we can use native language. So I think that’s cool we use it, but not as much as we could.”

Mayans M.C. season two premieres September 3, 2019, at 10 p.m. on FX.