Undocumented, queer characters in ‘Undocumented Tales’ are portrayed as human beings

PARAMOUNT — Armando Ibanez wants to smash stereotypes and show undocumented people as human beings.

Ibanez is an undocumented, queer filmmaker who created, wrote, and directed “Undocumented Tales,” a YouTube web series that follows the journey of Fernando, a Mexican, who’s undocumented and queer and works as a food server in Los Angeles.

“Undocumented Tales” will be screened Wednesday at Cal State Long Beach in the Student Union at 5 p.m. After the screening, Ibanez will participate in a panel discussion.

AUTHENTIC QUEER LATINO CHARACTERS

Ibanez, 35, of Paramount, is committed to portraying authentic Latinx characters and addressing real issues impacting immigrant communities in the United States.

“I want to break Hollywood and mainstream media stereotypes about my people,” says Ibanez, who stars as Fernando. “I was tired of seeing films about us only showing our struggles, showing us crying. They don’t show our beauty, our celebration of life.

‘UNDOCUMENTED PEOPLE AS HUMAN BEINGS’

“I want to show that undocumented people are human beings,” he says. “Hollywood hasn’t done that.”

Ibanez wants “Undocumented Tales” to last five seasons. Season two debuted last year on YouTube. During those six episodes, Fernando continued on his journey to find his identity as an undocumented, queer man and met people who made him realize that hiding and living a lie is not the right way to happiness. Fernando found a love interest, and Ibanez had his first on-camera kiss.

ALSO READ: ‘Undocumented Tales’ web series shows multidimensional characters

Ibanez will launch a $70,000 Indiegogo fundraising campaign in a couple months that would cover production costs for season three’s eight episodes.

Armando Ibanez is an undocumented, queer filmmaker who created the YouTube web series “Undocumented Tales.” Photo: Armando Ibanez.

In a recent interview with Q Voice News, Ibanez talks about overcoming writer’s block, Viola Davis’ Emmy speech, and using “Undocumented Tales” as a way to resist.

Here are some excerpts.

Writer’s block

“I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to tell stories about my people, but for some reason I just couldn’t start writing or thinking about idea,” Ibanez says.

“During the summer of 2015, I went through depression. I used to wake up everyday thinking, ‘This can’t be my life. Am I always going to be hiding and lying to my family and to society? I see no point in living like this.’ I started having suicidal thoughts for being an undocumented queer. I was living my ‘normal life,’ but deep inside nothing made sense.”

Viola Davis’ Emmy speech

“When Viola Davis won the Emmy in 2015 and gave the speech of a lifetime, ‘You cannot win Emmys for roles that are not simply there,’  I felt like she was talking to me. That was the green light I was waiting for,” Ibanez says. “I sat down in my room that same night and started writing ideas for this little project call ‘Undocumented Tales.

“Undocumented Tales” season one

“For season one, I knew I didn’t have any resources (money, equipment, crew) to film many episodes. I just wanted to let the audience know that the main character of Fernando was undocumented and queer,” Ibanez says. “From there I wrote two episodes — one to show Fer as undocumented and the second to show his identity as queer.”

Season two explores Fernando’s world

“For season two, I knew I had to tell Fernando’s story in more detail and introduce his world to the audience,” Ibanez says. “Another important thing I had on mind is that I wanted to introduce new undocumented characters that would help Fer to find his own voice. Something that happened to me in real life. I never considered ‘coming out’ myself until the day I started meeting undocuqueers,” Ibanez says. “From there, I knew the story I wanted to show — Fernando navigating through work, home, love and friendship.”

Ibanez’s first kiss on the camera

“I told my costar, Irving Pineda, during rehearsals, ‘This scene is so difficult for me, so let’s just get it done the first day,’ and that’s what we did,” Ibanez says. “It was very hard because even though I am the director, as an actor, I felt very shy shooting this scene because it was my very first time kissing someone in front of camera.”

Getting the kiss right

“I remember while shooting, every time Irving opened the door, we had to cut because I wasn’t ready to kiss him. Fer is the one who jumps and kiss him,” Ibanez says with a chuckle. “Originally, it was a long take, but I didn’t like it. Months later, we reshot the scene, and the second time was perfect. That’s what you see in the final cut.”

The art in “Undocumented Tales” imitates Ibanez’s life

“Most of Fernando’s life were inspired by events that I experience and went trough trying to find my own place and voice. The experiences with my mother and the restaurant life is from my story,” Ibanez says. “I really wanted to put my own experiences on the screen because I haven’t seen myself reflected in movies or sitcoms so I created my own. After premiering both seasons I discovered that others feel represented, too.”

Storylines that didn’t make season two

“One issue I really wanted to touch is the anti-blackness in the Latino community, specifically in the restaurant industry in Los Angeles,” Ibanez says. “People say, ‘Black people don’t tip,’ and from there, the conversation will be long and deep. That is definitely something I will talk about in season three. I am just tired of explaining that this is wrong to family members, friends, and coworkers. We all have anti-black people in our Latino circles, and the worst part is that we normalize it or sometimes we just ignore it.”

Cast and crew in seasons one and two were volunteer

“In the first season, we had over 80 volunteers. Season two had about 200 volunteers. Begging people for help is my everyday life now. I’m so used to it,” Ibanez says with a chuckle. “But I feel lucky because there’s a lot of people and business that believed in this project. There’s a lot of passion and heart when we’re shooting. It’s not easy. Sometimes we filmed up to 20 hrs per day. People requested days off at their actually jobs to come film the project without charging a penny.”

‘Hang to resist’

“This series hasn’t been easy at all. Sometimes I feel like giving up because all of the hard work I have put into it,” Ibanez says. “I lost the number of nights I ended up crying because I just felt like I couldn’t finished season two. But when I feel like giving up, I think about all of the people that will watch this series and will smile. I think about all the people that are living hiding and lying about their identities. When I think that this might help them, I tell myself “Armando get your shit together and finish this.” This project is for my people, this is my way to tell them to not give up. To hang in there to resist.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.