I grew up in a Spanish-speaking home in Echo Park. On my mother’s one day off a week from her restaurant, we’d go to matinees at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. We rarely saw people like us on the screen, but on TV, I watched “I Love Lucy”: finally, a Latino lead actor who even spoke Spanish, though it made him the butt of other characters’ jokes. I remember the season the Ricardos and Mertzes relocated to Hollywood for Ricky’s career, which made me think I’d want to go there too — not realizing, at the time, that I was already here.
My community’s Hollywood history, or rather the lack of it, is why I said yes when I was invited to consult on Season 2 of the HBO series “Perry Mason.” The eight-episode serial, which is set in 1930s Los Angeles, centers on a mystery: Brooks McCutcheon, eager to put his mark on the city and — as the son of a powerful, rich white capitalist, well-positioned to do so — is killed, and two Latino brothers, Mateo and Rafael Gallardo, are charged with the crime.
I’d served as a historical consultant before for documentaries, government agencies (including the State Department), corporations (Amazon), museums and nonprofits, but this would be my first time helping with a television show. A team of formidable scholars was already meeting with producers and showrunners who took very seriously the idea that no detail was too small to get right.