Script File

Undercover Chola

Knee deep in student loan and credit card debt, twenty six year old researcher Veronica Martín navigates between a prestigious but low paying fellowship at the affluent all white world of the Brownstone Research Foundation and her parents working class home in East LA.

  • Salvador Paniagua
  • Project Type:
    Television Script
  • Genres:
    Drama, Comedy
  • Number of Pages:
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • First-time Screenwriter:
  • Student Project:
Writer Biography - Salvador Paniagua

Salvador Paniagua was born in Oxnard, California, and grew up in a close-knit Mexican American family. His grandparents lived next door, his grandfather’s cousin up the street, aunts and cousins spread around within walking distance. Going to Stanford and working in academic environments for affluent Americans was a culture shock. Most of Paniagua’s stories and characters explore this intersection of family, Chicano identity, the immigrant experience, the arts, and secret spies.

Salvador Paniagua's scripts and films have been recognized by the Ford Motor Company and Disney. Most recently, his comedic web series Los Americans made it to the second round of the Sundance|Youtube New Voices Lab. His short films have appeared in the Sacramento International Latino Film Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival, among others. Paniagua was a finalist for the Walt Disney Studios Feature Writing Fellowship Program. He also received a grant from the Mercury Latino Lens Challenge to shoot Los Tamales, a comedic and warm-hearted story about a 7-year-old boy's trek across the neighborhood to run an errand for his mother.

Paniagua also participated in Film Independent's Project:Involve Writer/Director fellowship and NALIP's Writers Lab in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Writer Statement

The show concept was inspired while I was working as a communications professional at Chadwick School in Rancho Palos Verdes. As a “diverse” member of the staff I attended the NAIS People of Color conference. Basically, this national conference was set up as a support group for the brown and black people who work at prestigious independent schools all over the country. People came from California, Washington, New York, Ohio, Louisiana amongst many other cities — we’re talking over 2000 people. Many times, Latinos and African Americans find they are the only brown person on the faculty. The conference provides a space to meet people like yourself: diversity hires.

While at the conference I befriended a colleague whose background was similar to mine. She grew up in East LA, went to Berkeley for undergrad and then Stanford for graduate school. We laughed about our culture shock moving in these worlds. She worked as a college guidance counselor coaching affluent students through the application process into the Ivy League, and had a brother who was a cholo living in East LA. The crazy thing was that we’d worked together for over two years, but because she was light complexioned, and so well assimilated, and had the married name of Ackers, I never thought she grew up in East LA. It’s like we’d found kindred spirits.

Once we talked, we were surprised by the similarities in our background. It also forced us to wonder about my ethnically vague new boss who’d come from the automotive corporate world. Over time, we learned she was an undercover chola, sharing many of our experiences but unwilling to share them publicly or as part of her identity. It made us think, “Why would someone feel the need to hide their ethnic background? What’s it like to live in two worlds that are so different? Is assimilation good?”

As I opened this conversation with friends, and friends of friends that work in education or research settings, it was fascinating to hear their stories. People talked about trying not to move their hands too much, or being put on every grant proposal because being a woman of color was an asset to obtaining the contract, but then seeing their companies never hire any other people of color. In my opinion, these are themes that are best confronted in episodic television where you can really dig into the characters.

I’m qualified to tell this story because of my own experience working in environments where I’ve had to hide or downplay my cultural background. That said, it’s always fascinating to be talking to a teacher of art history, knee deep into my latest visit at the Norton Simon and then switch gears with a maintenance guy who wants to show me the new rims he bought. I always thought it was wild that I could be as familiar and chummy with both people even if those two people didn’t talk to each other. In my opinion, there is loads of comedy to milk from this unique perspective I have.