If you haven’t gotten enough of me through The Feminist Tea Party, you can get your fix through my new podcast, “Mixing it up with Maggi.”
I’ll be interviewing my favorite pals for a conversation on everything from motherhood, social activism, sex, career and much more. Listen in every Wednesday night through SoundCloud or catch it on demand here on myefflinglifeblog.
Note: This week’s podcast is conducted in Spanish. Please see below for a full translation
On this episode of Mixing It Up with Maggi, I sit at home with my mom to talk about Spanish language soaps and their evolutions in the last few years. The female protagonists and their overall stories have become more complex and dynamic. We start by mentioning some of my mother’s favorites and transition into the ones I watched as a young child. We finish off with Netflix’s additions of Spaniard series: El Tiempo Entre Costura and Las Chicas Del Cable. I teach my mom how to analyze media and look at the possible reasons for the change in these stories and its connect to our ever changing society.
Here’s the full translated transcript:
Paraphrasing the dialogue:
Maggi: Okay mom, we are starting the show, umm, last year you did a show with me where we did a little like an autobiography of you. Briefly, during that episode, you mentioned some of your favorite shows growing up. So, when you were younger what were the series or soap operas you liked watching?
Mom: I liked watching romance soap operas. Back then the themes were the same, they were romantic and usually about a woman who wanted to study but also dreamed of having a husband and kids. But my favorite was this old soap opera, it was called, The Woman from The Other Night. It was about a gypsy woman who saw a man through her balcony and they ended up falling in love.
Maggi: But you also liked series, not just soaps but series that were brought from the US into the Dominican Republic. They were American series like I Dream of Genie and Bewitched, right?
Mom: Yeah, I liked Betwiched a lot because like the name, you know, it’s a series that had a fantasy element in it. It came in around the 1970s and I was still relatively young then and I liked the gestures the main character use to make.
Maggi: I don’t know if you know but I actually wrote an article about the series because the main character if you recall, was a very powerful woman, a witch. But her husband because he was human, he prohibited her from using magic. She did it anyways but behind his back. I wrote about this because it has to do with feminism. Sometimes we women are much smarter than our husbands but because of the society we live in and of course at that time, she (the main character) let him (the husband) govern her. Do you remember this? What do you think about it? I also remember she helped him a lot with his work.
Mom: Yes, she always wanted to demonstrate her value to him. It was when he was in a dire situation that she only she could solve, did he comprehend that she can do anything. We are always in competition men and women, now we are more equal but at that time maybe because of the situation, we were so limited, we couldn’t do certain things but we’ve always been able to do the same work. But when I was still young, 18, 19, men still didn’t understand that. They didn’t understand that we can do the same work, even its physically demanding. I had college friends who studied engineering and use to do the same heavy work men did.
Maggi: I know you didn’t get married super young. You spent time studying and working. You wanted to have a profession. Did at any point someone told you that you couldn’t do it? Or was there a character from the soaps and series you watched that similarly to you also wanted to be a professional working woman not just a mother and wife?
Mom: There was a series, I can’t recall the name, where there was young woman who wanted to be a doctor and she actually accomplished this. But once she did, he started having marital problems and divorce because of her husband didn’t want her to spend the night at the hospital. In my case I wanted to do both. But my parents instilled in me that I had to have a profession before getting married. That’s why there was a delay in me actually getting married. But, thank God, I was able to do both.
Maggi: Growing up I watched soaps with you and with grandma when I spent time with her. With you, in this country, I remember those were the only shows we watched together. My favorite soap was The Privilage To Love. I liked it because it was about a mother and daughter. The mother had her own company, a fashion company and her daughter wanted to be a model. In it, the mother character wasn’t so good nor evil but she was a professional woman. Both the daughter and the mom had a great dynamic. Compare to other soaps of the time, like Maria la del Barrio and Mari Mar, where the woman was poor, she would meet a rich man then, through marriage she was able to actually make something of herself. We also saw Betty La Fea (It’s not the same as Ugly Betty but it was based on the original Columbian soap). The main character here was also a professional woman, she was very smart, but she didn’t look the rest of the women in the office.
Mom: She had a lot of inferiority complex because of her physical. She thought her outer beauty was more important than her inner beauty. However, the show proved that this isn’t true. She worked and was able to progress where she worked.
Maggi: If I recall, at the end she became the owner of the company. Even when she wasn’t she helped out the guy (the CEO) a lot. She was a very smart character. Soaps usually didn’t have these kinds of characters. They were fighters but they always had the same theme of the poor woman who marries the rich guy, they were white Latinas and most of the time it was the same actresses. But recently we began to see a change in the soaps and because of that change, we began to watch Netflix. Now we see soaps like Kate del Castillo’s La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South) and Ingovernable (Ungovernable) and La Patrona (The Boss(female) ). These women have this way of being very regal, being their own boss. However, you never really liked these soaps not because of the strong women in it but because of the other themes that come with them like drugs and violence.
Mom: No, I don’t like violence but I understand that in these types of stories there has to be violence since they are fighting (with/against) criminals and drug traffickers.
Maggi: Yeah, sometimes they (main characters) are part of the drug tracking. I believe the first soap I saw like this was Sin Senos No Hay Paraiso (Without Breasts There is no Paradise). Where the characters weren’t always good or bad, they were more dynamic. But yes it contained a lot more violence and drugs. I mentioned to you earlier that in school, when I studied media, we learned about this theory: is the tv watching us or are we watching the tv? Recently Spanish language series on tv and on Netflix, are featuring gay character and even women having sexual relationships outside of marriage. Do you think that the tv is copying what it sees in our society or is it that we as a society have watched so much tv that we copy what we see?
Mom: I think is a mixture of both. Sometimes there are based on a true story or soaps that reflect our daily lives. Other times, producers would become inspire by the stories and struggles of someone they know, maybe their friend or neighbor and create a show out of it. I would say, it’s a bit of both. Everyone’s lives are essentially a soap opera.
Maggi: I began to watch more Netflix than cable television. In doing so, I found a Spanish language section. But the content was more from Spain and I think that because of that, the themes and stories were different. We started watching El Gran Hotel (The Gran Hotel), then we saw Velvet which followed a more traditional path: the woman was poor and she fell in love with the company’s owner but she also had her own career which is what I liked. But I want to speak about two specifically because they were very different from any other we’ve seen: one was El Tiempo Entre Costura (The Time in Between), which we really enjoyed. I didn’t think you were going to like it much. This was a time piece set in the 1940s around WW2. The girl’s mother taught her how to sew and this was her only skill. The story starts off typically with this poor young woman who meets this rich man who takes her to Morocco. He abandons her there in the middle of the war and she’s left with nothing. What we liked about it was that she then utilizes her only skill as a seamstress to make a new life for herself. Then the story changes because a friend tells her that doing what she does (being a great seamstress) bring in the women of generals and other powerful men. This is when she becomes a spy. The story is not about her finding a man or getting married, she doesn’t even get married in the series. Do you remember? What did you like about it?
Mom: Well what I liked about it was that she (the main character) came from the bottom as a simple seamstress. She was a fighter and though she was scared, she became a spy. She wanted to be successful and be part of that world of spies, generals, rich wives. Her ambition grew and at the end, it (the story) proved that if you really want something you can achieve it. Being a spy was difficult for her but she pushed through to become successful and help her mother. I had a sewing teacher who use to say, “ A woman who knows how to sew even if her husband leaves her, she will never gets bored.”
Maggi: The other series that we saw was also very different. It came out a few months ago and it’s called Las Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls). This one takes place in the 1920s and it’s about these girls that work in the first telephone company. The four main girls are very different. One is a wife who in an abusive relationship and she wants to be independent, we have a woman who was rich whose dad didn’t want her to work, we have a woman who is poor and came from a small town, who was surprised by all the technology in the big city, she didn’t have a lot of friends and never had a boyfriend, and then there was another girl who came to the city with big dreams but ends up working for the police as a theft. What was the thing that surprised you the most about this series?
Mom: I like that she (the main character) was a fighter. She made the mistake of becoming a bit of a theft but she preserved and became part of this company that was completely new at that time.
Maggi: I asked you about a scene where the husband told his wife that if she left, he would call the cops on her and he would retain full custody of the child. Leaving your husband was a crime back then. I asked you like, “ mom is he really going to call the cops on her?” then she also needed his signature to have access to the bank account remember? Could you imagine? I don’t think I would have been able to live at that time.
Mom: That was that time period. The women were below the men and even when she did have a profession, as soon as she was married, she couldn’t really do anything with it. It was a crime to live your household back then. My mom told me that this was true.
Maggi: I knew about this because I studied this in history but it was still dramatic watching it happen. He would beat her. She couldn’t do anything about it and if she told the police, it’s not like now that domestic violence is considered a crime. I also want to briefly speak about is the love stories and sexualities that have surprised us both while watching the series. In this one, for example, there’s a character that I will say is bisexual with a boyfriend and girlfriend. She and her girlfriend were also a part of the feminist (women suffrage movement). Do you remember they were gathering and the police came to arrest them? What did you think about this? Were you surprised?
Mom: I was surprised. Back then, no one understood homosexuality. Now with science, we understand better that people are born that way.
Maggi: I was surprised because this was the second gay character we saw. We saw one in Velvet but he only kissed the person. In this one, she was very bold and daring. It was more explicit. The series takes place at a time when this behavior was hidden but we are watching it all go down. I think it s what I was telling you before that the series does this to demonstrate that these practices were common and were taken place, not publically, but in the security of people’s homes.
Mom: There weren’t that many people out. I remember only meeting one person when I was little. The person played their role very well and not everyone knew about it. Now, people don’t mind being discovered and they want to be who they really are from their birth.
Maggi : I was surprised to see a revolution, the feminist movement. We gain the right to vote in the 1920s. I was surprised to see a little bit of this in this Spanish series. I know that they would get arrested because it was considered almost treason against the government. You were talking about this earlier how real life influences the stories we watch.
Mom: Every story has something good and something bad.
Maggi: I also believe that. I love watching series with you special period piece because you will always tell me, “yes, that’s the way it was before.” You know that I’m always looking for the female character and her storyline. But I like watching it with you because we have such different perspectives about how these stories influence now. Which is exactly what I studied. I bet now when you watch tv you will be analyzing characters and stories and how they influence me or someone younger. Thank you for being here with me and analyzing everything we’ve seen together.
Mom: Thank you for letting me share these messages with you since we watched these series together. God bless and thank you.
La Mujer de Aquella Noche
Embrujada (Bewitched) (article mentioned)
Maria La Del Barrio
El Privilegio de Amar
Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty, Columbian original)
La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South)
Tiempo Entre Costura (The Time in Between)
Las Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls)