Linda was born and raised in Norwalk, California, just 20 minutes outside of L.A, “My parents are from Mexico, they moved to East L.A. back in the day. So I spent a lot of time in L.A., going back and forth on the weekends because that was the only community my parents really knew in the beginning.” Despite the proximity, a career in Hollywood felt impossible to Linda. It was actually her father who, without really knowing it, instilled this dreamer’s mentality in her, “My dad would drive us down to Beverly Hills often on the weekends. He would drive through the different neighborhoods and point to mansions and be like ‘yeah that’s gonna be your house someday’, ‘which one is yours, Mijo?’ He was always letting us know that even though this area felt so inaccessible to us, [it] could be ours if we worked really hard.” So, that’s what Linda did.
On top of being a lovely person, Linda Yvette Chávez is also incredibly accomplished. Most notably she is the co-writer, co-creator, co-showrunner, and co-producer of the hit Netflix show “GENTEFIED” along with her work partner Marvin Lemus. Her script for a film adaptation of the bestselling Erika Sanchez novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” has been directed by America Ferrera and is slated to drop next year. To fan the flames more, she also wrote a feature film about the founder of Hot Cheetos titled “Flamin’ Hot” that’s expected to come out around the same time, and she recently agreed to a multi-year deal with 20th Television where, according to her website, “she’s developing new series for Disney’s many platforms.” By all accounts, Linda Yvette Chávez is booked and busy, but one thing I took away from having the privilege of speaking with her, is that it wasn’t always like this.
Linda always held a passion for writing, that much is true, and even wrote short stories as a kid, “[I] loved making people cry with them.” She jokes. In truth, she never thought she would make a career out of writing, but everything changed her second year at Stanford. Linda took a course called Social Protest Theater, “It was one of the only courses being run by a Black professor,” she notes. The class really opened her eyes when it came to writing, “I was exposed to work by People of Color. People like Spike Lee, August Wilson, Sandra Cisneros, and Sherry Moraga, whose play “Giving Up The Ghost” was the first time I saw something that felt like my family. That felt like home. And I was like ‘oh wow, I can write about my family, I didn’t know that.”
Up until that point, Linda had been writing more fantasy-related stories, depicting things like witches and fictional characters. However, it was through that class, and those discoveries, that Linda made the official leap and told her family she was going to be a writer. Then came “GENTEFIED”. After years of working in the digital space, and getting to learn all sides of the business, Linda was sought after to write the series, “[Marvin Lemus] looked around and was like, I’m looking for a Chicana from L.A, who writes comedy, who does digital. And [it] kind of got narrower and narrower and people were like Chavez. That was the name thrown his way.” The digital series was produced and greenlit by Macro, a Black-owned production company spearheaded by Charles D. King that prided itself on emphasizing Black and POC representation. Once the trailer was released Linda and Marvin spent 5 months creating a TV pitch, and went on to pitch to ten major Networks, of those ten seven said yes.
The pair went with Netflix and “GENTEFIED” reached massive success in the two seasons it ran. It opened doors for actors and gave Latine fans a space to feel represented in a way they never had been before, “I think it was wild to be able to tell a story that was unapologetically Latine, and unapologetically working class, and unapologetically loving…a big part of what we wanted to do with the show was show [a] family that really loved itself, loved each other, loved each other deeply, and who would go to the ends of the Earth for each other, because that was what I grew up with.” It was an important show on an important platform, and then, it was canceled. Even though two seasons sounded short, Linda and Marvin had been crafting this world for six years. This was their first show ever. The entire thing, while incredibly fulfilling, was also a lot, “You grow in ways that you never thought you would grow. I never knew that [I] could grow. So it was exhausting, to be honest. And I think once we had a feeling that we might not be coming back, we made our peace with that.” Linda’s since moved on to her next Netflix project.
Back in 2018, while “GENTEFIED” was being created, Linda got the opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to write a feature film adaptation of Erika Sanchez’s bestselling novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”, “It’s a female-driven project about a young Latina girl, and the subject matter is pretty heavy, but its also just such a beautiful, touching, funny narrative, and I think the world needs to see it.” The movie, which is expected to come out sometime next year, is being directed by Linda’s friend, America Ferrera, “We actually visited her in Chicago in 2021, after the vaccines had come out. I got to explore Chicago with her and just really talk with her. It was like a spiritual experience, I feel doing that rewrite of the script, having America’s input, and working with her. It was just really beautiful and powerful, and I love her, and she’s gonna be a homie forever and ever.”
Considering the life Linda has gotten to live, and the spaces she’s navigated, rooms most Latinas aren’t privy to, I wanted to ask her if there was any discrimination she’s faced as a Television Writer or Latina in Hollywood, “A lot. I mean, I think there’s so many layers, right? The intersectionality of being a woman and being from [a] working-class background and being Chicana. For me, [I] identify more Chicana than anything else, because…I feel like that also captures my indigenous roots. Having all those things, and then also being a very nice kind person who’s sweet…those can all work against you sometimes, even though they’re superpowers at the end of the day, right?”
Throughout her years in Hollywood, Linda’s seen firsthand the treatment she’s gotten versus other men in the industry. The rooms or phone calls she wasn’t allowed in, that others were. The lack of credit on certain projects or the way her opinion has been valued less. It’s a difficult thing to call out, and often times people aren’t even aware they’re doing it. But Linda has some imperative advice for any women who feel this is happening in their workplace, “One of the first things that I tell a lot of Latina writers, creators, leaders, people and women in business, Women of Color in general and BIPOC women, is that the first thing you gotta do is not gaslight yourself.” If you’re encountering discrimination, and it keeps happening, don’t tell yourself they aren’t aware. They don’t mean to do it, or they didn’t mean it like that, it’s just all in your head, “That doesn’t help you in the long run. What helps us is acknowledging, ‘Okay, this is happening. What can I do with it?’ A lot of the first steps is having those tough conversations, but also looking for allies and advocates around you in that space, who can help support you coming up.”
Going into “GENTEFIED” Linda made sure to ask Marvin if he would be her advocate, “One of the things I did before I started the show was take Marvin aside and kind of explain to him that I was going to be treated differently than him because of who I am, because I’m a Woman of Color. I have been working long enough to know that it was gonna happen and that it was already starting to happen, so having that conversation with him and asking him to be my ally was an important one for him.” At first, Marvin agreed but was skeptical. He thought Linda was preparing for the worst, and while he was happy to be her advocate, he didn’t think there would ever be a time when he would actually need to. But there were, “It did. It happened a lot, and he really showed up. He showed up for me, but I also showed up for myself in the sense that I saw what I was going into.”
Linda offered a lot of advice on this topic, but she also offered a lot of advice on getting into the world of Hollywood, specifically becoming a writer in the world of Television, “The traditional route, this is the route that people who are old school Hollywood will probably tell you, is becoming a writers assistant…then, the staff writer, and then you make your way up the ladder from there into story editor, executive story editor, to producer, co-producer…it just keeps going up all the way.” However, that’s not the only way.
Linda believes that while you should never stop looking for writer’s assistant opportunities, you shouldn’t just depend on them either. It’s all about building your portfolio, and for that, like Linda, you might need to have more of a skillset than just writing, “I’ll have writers tell me ‘I want to become a showrunner’, but then they have done nothing in production at all. [Showrunning] literally is all the things, they write, they produce, they oftentimes direct, they manage executives. So, look for those opportunities to be assistants, but also work on your own work. Try to put a director on your project, produce your own short film that you wrote. See what it feels like to hire a director that feels right for your short film. What does it feel like to hire a producer to help you bring it to fruition? What does it feel like to sit down in a room with your director and color correct? What does it feel like to sit down and sound design? You can do this very thing on your phone, and practice. In the meantime, instead of just writing, you’re also practicing all the skills of what you’re ultimately gonna become. And also, the thing that you produce, you can put into festivals, you can send samples. Visual representations of your writing are so important, so crucial, especially in short form because they’re quick and easy to watch along with your 30-minute sample.”
Filling out that portfolio isn’t always cheap, but that’s where Linda stresses the importance of applying for programs, “There’s a lot of programs, a lot of festivals that have programs specifically for this. For the Latino community Macro has programs…NBC, ABC, CBS, everybody has programs for people to be involved in. So apply.” The more you look around, the more you will find, and don’t be discouraged if you’re rejected the first time, “A lot of my most successful mentees will apply again and again and again.” Marvin, for example, wasn’t accepted into a specific program until his fifth application. At the end of the day, if this is a job you want, just keep working on it, “The difference between people who have made it, and those who haven’t is people who persevere and worked on their talent. That’s it.”
Linda Yvette Chávez is nothing short of a trailblazer, paving the way for all the Latina writers to come. So much of what we talk about at Latinitas has to do with representation. To know that this woman is responsible for launching more Latinos in Hollywood or giving opportunities back to her community is not only inspiring, but it makes me feel privileged to have been able to speak with her. I am beyond excited about the projects she has in store, and the places she will go. Whatever happens, this is certainly not the last you’ve heard of Linda Yvette Chávez.
You watch both seasons of GENTEFIED streaming right now on Netflix!