A View of Vista L.A.
An interview with Velia La Garda, producer of L.A.'s longest-running Latino news show
Jose M. Mayorquin
Latino LA: How long have you been the producer of Vista L.A.?
Published on LatinoLA: May 30, 2003
La Garda: When I was hired, I was hired to work on a variety of shows, but I really began focusing on Vista L.A. at about the beginning of 1995.
LLA: You've won a number of Emmy's and Imagen Awards so far, so you must be doing something right. What is it that people like about Vista L.A.?
La Garda: I think it's the respect that it gives to the community, in a sense that it gives it a more holistic view, as far as socially, politically, economically, culturally and just how we think of ourselves. So it educates non-Latinos, but at the same time, Latinos watching learn something about themselves.
LLA: There are very few Latino-themed shows out there that are produced by a television network. Most of these shows are produced independently and then sold to the networks, usually at a very low cost. What makes Vista L.A. unique in this aspect? Why would ABC invest in this type of show?
La Garda: I think the benefits of having a show that focuses on such a huge part of the population has given a lot of loyal viewers to KABC-TV. In other words, Latinos watching Channel 7 know that there's a show that's there just for them. I know a lot of people really go out of their way to watch the show and a lot of educators watch the show, as well. So the uniqueness is that we actually do spend some money on the show, I guess. And it attempts to give the best representation of the community not to sugarcoat the reality, but to give more of a holistic approach. So much of what we get on TV is so superficial and stereotypical. You just really want to give people a good round view of the community and what they?re experiencing.
LLA: So do you think that in providing this show that, KABC is capitalizing and, at the same time, catering to the large Latino population in L.A., since it is a local show?
La Garda: Yes, absolutely. And it also gives a chance for local talent, our hosts Henry Alfaro and Jovana Lara, to really look good doing what they do best. The identity with the show that the hosts have is incredible. A lot of people have always known who Henry Alfaro is, but with Vista L.A. his legacy goes even further.
LLA: Other shows that center on Latinos seem to target a young and hip demographic while your show seems to be directed at a more sophisticated audience. How would you describe your audience?
La Garda: Yeah, I think our audience is older, and it?s also much more loyal. Once in a while we?ll do shows that target the younger viewers, but what I believe in is that I don?t want to waste people?s time. If they're watching the show, I want them to come away with news they can use or information they can do something with to possibly empower or enrich their lives.
LLA: How would you describe the show?
La Garda: I think the show is just as slick and as good as any other informational and entertainment show. I think we really try to keep the viewer?s attention and at the same time educate and inform them.
LLA: What types of stories do you prefer to tell on the show?
La Garda: I like them all. But there are so many stories that the Latino community is dying to tell. It's so hungry for that airtime. All these stories are just fighting for air. It?s those issues that never get attention that I love to cover. For instance, one issue that always gets put aside is Latinos and AIDS. Although the gay white community got the message, within people of color, that's where the epidemic is growing. And they are still in denial. So it's with issues like that that desperately need to be talked about and dealt with that I think I get the most satisfaction from. Another of these issues is higher education. Why aren't Latinos graduating from college? Where are they getting stuck in the whole cycle, because they are applying more but at the same they never finally get that diploma. You know, just trying to get to the meat of issues like that. I love doing that.
LLA: How do you think that being a local show influences the content?
La Garda: Oh, it definitely does. I don't have to worry about playing politics or, you know, talk to a Miami audience that?s totally 180 degrees politically different from an L.A. audience that's much more Democratic and more left. It's definitely one of the hardest things to do, a national Latino show, because we're all so very different. The east coast is totally different from the west coast. And I think that's where Vista L.A. is strong. I wish it was more of a southwest show and that would be very easy to do, but as far as nationally that is a real challenge.
LLA: How do you think that being associated with a news station affects the show?
La Garda: It brings a tremendous amount of credibility, because you have access to footage and access to people that you wouldn't otherwise. You know, coming from Channel 7. So it's great, especially when you're covering a hard issue.
LLA: What about the content? Being a product of a news station, are you inclined to be more journalistic or news-like?
La Garda: Oh, definitely. If I want my hosts to say something in slang or whatever, they won't. (Laughs) They refuse to do it. They want to say it the news way. So I can't really go there. I have to keep it very news-oriented. Even though I try not to do that with lighter subjects, but they still come back. Just today, I was telling my host, Jovana, to say she hooked up with so and so?? and she told me, 'I don't what to say 'hooked up,' she 'partnered.'? And I was like, okay'this isn't a hard issue, it's really light, but if you have to? So they won't go there. They refuse to, and they shouldn't go there. I'm sure they're aware of what the news director or whomever would say.
LLA: What's it like to work with Henry Alfaro and Jovana Lara?
La Garda: It's great. Henry, people see him in other markets and believe that he is somebody they've seen in their past or in Hollywood or somewhere. He just holds that type of stature, even with people who don't even know him and live in L.A. So in L.A., he's a huge icon. People scream at the top of their lungs when they see him on the street. And this is non-Latino and Latino alike. It's really great, because he holds a lot of history and a lot of dignity for the community. Jovana is a saint. She's great. She's really great and she is very open to doing anything she can for this show.
LLA: Jovana's relatively new to the show, right?
La Garda: Yes and you know what's great about Jovana? It's that she's Cuban, and she brings a different perspective to the show. Obviously, the audience of Mexican-Americans is huge. But it's nice to have somebody that isn't Mexican, at the same that's Latina, host the show because it does bring a different perspective. It's not that different, but it's just different enough to make sure that we include everyone. And that?s great.
LLA: Vista L.A. is one of only a handful of shows focusing on Latinos and Latino culture. Do you think that things are getting any better for Latinos in film and television, in terms of representation?
La Garda: I think that George Lopez has made a huge difference in primetime, because it's an actual show about Latinos and there are real Latinos in the show. And it does give you a little bit of culture every time. I think that's made a huge difference. And you do see us more often, especially with the whole Jennifer Lopez conglomerate. She's kind of taken over. So you see more, but the bottom line is that we still are a very low percentage of characters on primetime. A lot more has to be done. But I never thought that in my lifetime I'd see a George Lopez and I never thought I'd see a J-Lo. I'm glad that that happened in my lifetime and my kid doesn't have to suffer without seeing that part of his identity there on the screen.
LLA: What can we expect to see in your upcoming shows?
La Garda: We're on every Sunday in June, so people can't miss any of our shows. Let's see: We have our Children's Hospital show, on June 1st, which is always a tearjerker. But it's really enlightening to know what's being done to help these children who are so desperate. And we have, on June 8th, a wonderful show on 'Cesar and Ruben', the play that was here by Ed Bagely, Jr. And then the Titanic exhibit, which is incredible and people should see on a unique story about the 1st class Mexican passenger that was on-board that gave up his seat on a raft to an English woman. And we have the 'Chavez Ravine' play by Culture Clash and more on Genealogy. People love those types of shows that help them trace their family roots. The June 15th show is on entertainment, everything that'
s going on, the independent films, directors, photographers, you name it. People totally in the whole entertainment world. On June 22nd, we have a show on health. We have some really interesting profiles of Latinas getting into the whole spa, the whole Pilates exercise and health routine. We also cover what the status is with Latinos and diabetes, and that situation in the L.A. Unified School District and L.A. County and how people really need to pay attention to that. That?s a really good show. And finally, on June 29th, we're going to have a show on outstanding programs for youth and what?s going on with gang prevention in L.A.
LLA: Sounds like a great line-up. Is there anything else that you?d like to say to our Latino L.A. audience?
La Garda: If you can't watch the show tape it, because it's one-of-a-kind and nobody gives you what Vista L.A. does.
Vista L.A. airs Sundays at 11:30am on KABC, Channel 7.