Generation Por Qué? is a unique comedy short that focuses on the life of a first-generation American and being the child of immigrants. Comedian Jacqueline Pereda created, starred in, and directed the short, which premiered May 1 on HBO Latino and is now on HBO Max for everyone to stream. ComingSoon.net’s Managing Editor Tyler Treese had the pleasure of speaking with Pereda about her role, the unique lives that first-generation Americans live, and how the special came to be.
Check out our Jacqueline Pereda interview below:
Tyler Treese: I thought Generation Por Qué? was hilarious. Your mother and father in the show just had me laughing every single scene they were in. Can you speak to the chemistry on set, and was it difficult casting people to play your parents? That seems like such a personal role.
Jacqueline Pereda: In terms of the chemistry on set, it was fantastic. We actually celebrated as a cast Saturday for the premiere. Everyone there, like I said, most people are first-gen. They were either born to the child of immigrants, or their parents were born somewhere else. So we just bonded on set. All of us were just like, “This is our lives. Oh my goodness just brings me back. You know, this is like my life right now.” It wasn’t hard casting the parents because I actually saw Andrea Burns on Broadway in 2008. She played Daniela in In the Heights. I remember seeing her on Broadway and thinking, “Oh my goodness, this woman reminds me of my mom and just so many of the women in my family.” I never forgot that.
Then I saw Sandor Juan, who plays Papi, speaking on a panel for Latinos in media. He was just so hilarious and also just so connected to the material he was working on and promoting at the time. I just knew that both of them together would be amazing. I just saw both of them and knew in my spirit that they were meant to play these parents. It wasn’t difficult casting. I just knew that they would be great together. Like I didn’t really go through a traditional casting process. Again, this was an indie comedy, but I knew the minute I read with Andrea and then Sandor really connected to the script, and they read together, and it was honestly just magic. You felt that they were married for like 20 years. A lot of people who’ve seen the short they’ve they’ve literally messaged me asking me if those were my real parents in real life. Like they can’t believe they’re actors that were not related in real life.
Was there much improv during the short?
Yeah, there was definitely improv. A lot of improv and a lot of it made it in. Also, I tell people they annihilated me with their humor. It was the hardest job as an actor ever because I could not stop laughing in every take. They were just so committed. The stakes were so high, and they did a fantastic job, but yeah, there’s a lot of improv, and we left a lot of room for them to go back and forth. A lot of that made it in, but the majority was scripted. They just really brought it to life.
So how has the reaction been now that it has premiered?
It’s been amazing when I tell you people from everywhere are just messaging me and even the cast. Of course, Cuban Americans can really relate ’cause it’s really inspired by my life and my experience. But I mean, people that are Nigerian American, the Arab, and the Muslim community as well. They all just love the story, and they really connect with the families, and being first-gen and growing up first-gen. Like I said, it’s super specific to my experience, but it’s completely universal. Even people that aren’t first-gen, a lot of people that grow up in more conservative or religious families and they moved to New York for a dream, and their family doesn’t get their dream. They support them, but they don’t get it. They don’t get the lifestyle. They really have these intrusive parents.
The reaction has been overwhelming, and people, first of all, they think they’re hilarious. Everything’s hilarious, which is the goal of comedy to make people laugh and just have the sharpest material possible. Really people from all walks of life and people opening up being like, “I want to be an actor too, but my parents didn’t really support it. So I went more of the conventional route, and it’s really the first. It’s a really accurate portrayal of the first-gen experience.” So the first-gen experience of people whose parents were born all over the world, like the executive producer, her parents were born in Poland, again, [it’s] not only Cuban American, like so many, you know, Arab, American, Nigerian American, Eastern European… it’s everyone. Everyone somehow says, “Oh my goodness, these are my parents. This is my family. This was my journey.” It’s been really amazing.
It’s really interesting how hyper-specific it is to Cuban Americans, but also how universal it has been received. One of the things that were really relatable was how your parents on the show, they’re very conservative, and a lot of people have been dealing with that, especially these past four years. It’s also created a lot of rifts between family, but in the show, they’re still very supportive. There’s nothing they want to do more than support their daughter. Can you discuss how it still remains such a loving family, despite that clear difference in politics?
I think most people, even before 2016, you grow up with people that have political differences, or they differ heavily on how they think Americans should be governed, but at the end of the day, you’re family, and you love and accept people for who they are. A lot of first-gen families and immigrant families, they’re conservative in the way that family comes first. There typically can be a religious component to that, and a lot of people fled from communist governments or countries where they didn’t really have any sort of freedom of speech or expression. They really couldn’t build sort of the American dream we can build here. Most families lead with love and empathy, and of course, you disagree with politics, but at the end of the day, you’re family and love each other and want the best for each other.
That’s been my experience, and the experience of a lot of people as well. That’s what I mean. I feel like so many people nowadays, unfortunately, we’re focusing more on the differences versus what brings us together. I’m not surprised that so many people watch this, and they say, “Oh my goodness, that’s my family.” Meaning we can disagree, but there’s so much love and support there as well, even if they don’t understand it. That doesn’t break anyone, it’s just like you respect this person’s difference. You’re just like, “Okay, I respect whatever you think, and I’m just gonna keep moving and living my life.” That isn’t like a foundation of a relationship, you know, it’s their love for each other and wanting the best for their daughter, wanting the best for your kids.
HBO picking up the short has to be so exciting. Can you speak to how that deal came together?
They saw the short, and they wanted to license it. They thought it was a great representation of a Latino family and someone especially being born in this country to immigrant parents. There isn’t too much content out there right now, or in general, that speaks truthfully of what it’s like, and that’s also a comedy. They loved that it was a comedic portrayal and through a comedic lens. But yeah, HBO saw it. They loved it. I feel like they’re the gold standard of film and TV, and I was just so thrilled to have them love it and want to put it on their platform.
Like you’ve been mentioning, the special is very true to life. It’s grounded in reality. What elements from the show are from your actual real life?
Living with a first-gen roommate, that dynamic versus living with someone that isn’t first-gen kind of… Like that shorthand and understanding each other’s lives and being like, “Your mom’s calling, you should definitely pick up. She probably thinks you’re like dead in the subway somewhere.” Definitely inspired by my family [being] from Cuba. So the parents being Cuban and also just trying to chase your dreams and being in New York. Also, always grappling with and reckoning with living up to your parents’ expectations. I always carry that in my heart and a lot of first-gen friends and people that I know as well. It’s always that dance of you want to be independent. It’s like you want to embody the American culture and values of chasing your dreams and being independent versus your family’s hopes for you.
Also how a lot of cultures like family comes first, while here it’s more kind of trying to fulfill your dreams. Also, I’m a huge NSYNC fan. So I think those are the truest things. Those are the biggest parts of my life that are very close to that. But yeah, I just feel like in general, you know, coming of age, especially in this time and moving to New York and chasing your dreams. It’s something we all kind of go through coming of age. So, it was really important for me as well to highlight that. That’s definitely part of my journey as well, you know?
One of the things I thought was so funny was how you were dating like a white guy, and you’re like, “He just doesn’t understand that when I get a phone call from my mom, I have to take it.” What do you think is most misunderstood about first-gen kids and their experience with America?
I think what’s most misunderstood is, first of all, the experience is a lot more positive and it’s just a lot funnier. Like, because again, I always tell people you’re always straddling two worlds. Like the American [world] that I was born and live in, and then also the world of my parents and your values. You kind of don’t realize your world is different until you start dating someone that’s not first-gen or you go to college, and you see the way people live their life. So for me, it was so it’s always so normal, and other [first-generation Americans], for your parents to constantly worry about you and check-in and remind you of how much they sacrifice to come to this country. That they want you to do well and to raise a family and have kids.
Then you date someone that [isn’t first-gen] and their values are so different. Like dating people that weren’t first-gen, that’s when I really realized how different I was. I was like, “Oh my God, your mom doesn’t call you every 20 minutes. Like, she trusts you. When you go on vacation, you really don’t check-in.” That also translates into dating, you know? I think that’s why two people, especially with the dating thing, I’m like dating someone that’s first-gen versus non-first-gen. That’s where the comedy comes in because it’s so different, you know, the way we interact with our parents. Even the amount of times they contact us and even pick up the phone. I love that because it definitely it’s a little slice of life and how it really goes down with us.
Generation Por Qué? started a web series, and it grew into the short. Would you want to flush this out even further into a full television series if given the opportunity?
Absolutely. I would love for this to be a television series. When I made it, that was always the end goal in mind, and there’s just so much more of a story to tell. First-gen life is hilarious, and it lends itself to comedy and the response has been overwhelming and amazing, and I really would love to continue telling the story and flush it out and even go deeper with these characters. There’s so much more to say, and there’s so much more for the world to see of how, you know, we really, we really move about our lives and how we interact with our parents. So I just think it’s, I really feel like, you know, we’re always pulling back the curtain for everyone watching, and you guys are getting a sneak peek into our lives, and I would just continue love to doing that and telling the story.