Si TV, an emerging Latino Television Network founded by Jeff Valdez, is putting a new face on Spanish television. We've all seen those Spanish speaking channels on TV as we're flipping through the remote control, especially if you live in or near a large city. Spanish speaking soap operas, talk shows and the like have been coming through American airwaves for decades, due the close proximity of Central and South America to the United States, and the fact that Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing American minority population in the Unites States today.
Launched in February of 2004, Si TV seeks to create a different spin on the Latino Television market by being the first Latino TV Network where all of the programming is in English. Founder and CEO, Jeff Valdez thought it was time for a network to step up and show more modern and hip programming that celebrates Latino culture, but also embraces the assimilation into American culture in the process. Many second and third generation Latino Americans want to take pride in their background as a culture and style, rather then it being classified as a language. Jeff Valdez built Si TV for acculturated Latinos and other multi cultural people that would appeal to the urban marketplace as a whole. His vision was to work with Latino talent and to create a Latino "themed" product.
They say they are not trying to encourage Latinos to veer away from their native language, but rather offering a contemporary alternative for those who are more English dominant and more assimilated in American culture, but still want to celebrate their Latino heritage and urban culture and see their own on television.
Si TV is currently in 10 million households across the US, and available through Adelphia and Time Warner Cable Systems as well as Echo Star Dish TV. You can find Si TV in many cities across the US including: New York and the Tri-state area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Parts of Texas, Denver and Colorado Springs.
One of my favorite shows on the Si TV Network is "Across The Hall," starring the beautiful and multi-talented Mayte Garcia who has performed as a backup dancer and singer for the likes of Prince and Tommy Lee, and who taught Britney Spears how to belly dance for her most provocative music video, "Slave 4 U." Mayte's co-host is Eric Cubiche. Eric began his career as a Los Angeles area DJ who transitioned into an on-air personality with a show on L.A. TV, and then joined the prestigious roster of DJs at Los Angeles's Top 40 radio station, 100.3FM The Beat. "Across The Hall" is about two neighbors who share a love for music, and introduce artists and music videos based on a certain theme, depending on the episode. Mayte and Eric also have magical chemistry onscreen and share a penchant for teasing each other with good hearted humor.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): So, you were born in Alabama?
Mayte Garcia: I was born in Alabama but we literally lived there for like, two months. My dad was in flight school in the army, so I lived kind of, everywhere. The place I lived for the most was North Carolina, and there was a very small Latino population. My parents made sure that I had the Latino [culture]. My mom was a Spanish teacher. I definitely felt disconnected from it, but we had [Latino] friends who we would spend the weekend with, but they didn't go to the same school as us. But I don't remember a lot of Latinos being in North Carolina. We would go to Puerto Rico for three months during the summer and stay with my grandparents.
PR.com: Did you ever live in New York at all?
Mayte Garcia: I lived in New York about four years ago, and that was fun.
PR.com: That's the heaviest Puerto Rican population in the states...
Mayte Garcia: I know! It's a whole 'nother state.
PR.com: That's where I grew up. I had Puerto Rican friends and I went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in June, years ago.
Mayte Garcia: Fun.
PR.com: They taught me how to cook and I still make a lot of the dishes that they taught me.
Mayte Garcia: I love the food.
PR.com: Me too. A little too much! How did you first learn about the Si TV Network, and how were you cast to co-host the show, "Across the Hall?"
Mayte Garcia: Being a Latino and being in the business, I had heard about an English language network with a Latino base. And then a friend of mine was producing one of the shows and I got called in to audition for it. I went in, and I was myself. My co-host Eric [Cubiche], I had auditioned with some other people, but the minute me and him got together, just crazy great chemistry. I guess they saw it, and we got the gig.
PR.com: Is your dialogue scripted or ad libbed on the show?
Mayte Garcia: It's mostly all ad libbed. We'll do it two or three times and we'll add stuff, or we'll say something crazy. It's just crazy, the way that we are, and it's ironic because we're both born on the same day. When me and him start talking, it's free flowing. It's not even like work.
PR.com: Do they give you a theme, or they just say, "Ok, these are the music videos you're showing, so keep the conversation along those lines?
Mayte Garcia: It's kind of turning more into a sitcom, like, "Ok, you're gonna go in here and this is gonna happen. But say whatever you want." Like, I'll go to his house and he'll want to be alone and "Gone Solo" is the name of the show, featuring artists' [videos] that have been in groups who want to be alone and have a solo career. But then he's also at his house and wants to be alone and I want to bother him...
PR.com: Ok, I get it.
Mayte Garcia: It's great because it's the theme of the videos and also, I'm bothering him and he wants to be alone.
PR.com: One of the DVDs they sent me was when your sister was on the show with you, and Eric was kind of picking on you and your sister.
Mayte Garcia: Yeah. 'Cause that's just the way we are and he was trying to find out information. It was a great show. That's all we do is pick on each other.
PR.com: Do the producers ever come to you for ideas?
Mayte Garcia: No, but I know that the writers know us. The people who are working on the show know our personalities and they'll come up with ideas and throw it at us. It's a pretty good group of people doing the show.
PR.com: Were both of your parents born in Puerto Rico?
Mayte Garcia: Yeah, and my dad joined the army after he graduated from college. That's how we ended up in the states.
PR.com: I asked this of Eric too. Did you grow up watching Telemundo and Univision?
Mayte Garcia: Yeah, I grew up watching (she goes off with a fast tongue rattling off several Spanish shows), all that craziness!
PR.com: Did you feel a real connection with those shows and was Spanish mostly spoken in your household?
Mayte Garcia: Yeah, well, my mother made sure that we spoke Spanish, and she's a Spanish teacher. When she speaks English, I'm like, "Why are you talking to me in English??"
PR.com: Eric (Eric Cubiche, Mayte's co-host) said the same thing. He said, when his mother speaks to him in English, he asks her why she is speaking to him in English.
Mayte Garcia: My dad is the opposite. When he speaks to me in Spanish, I'm like, "Why are you speaking to me in Spanish??" Growing up, he wanted us to speak English and my mom wanted us to speak Spanish.
PR.com: He was more concerned with you becoming assimilated?
Mayte Garcia: Yeah, because I think he knew that my mom wouldn't [teach us], and I went to army school, military school growing up.
PR.com: Where did your mom teach Spanish?
Mayte Garcia: She taught soldiers who had to go on special missions to Latin America, who only had six weeks to learn Spanish.
PR.com: Wow! What are some things that you love about Latino culture and what are some things that you think can be improved within the community?
Mayte Garcia: I love the food. Crazy, crazy food!
PR.com: And you're so skinny...
Mayte Garcia: I know, but I will eat! But it is automatic weight gain. Also, I like the pride that Latinos have. I'm not saying other cultures don't have it. I went to a Black Eyed Peas Concert and one guy was Pilipino, the other guy was Mexican and they both had their flags. It's so great to see people being proud of where they come from, their heritage.
PR.com: Have you ever been to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York?
Mayte Garcia: I haven't.
PR.com: I have. It's crazy!
Mayte Garcia: I'm going next year.
PR.com: My friend took me years ago. It was crazy and a lot of fun. You have to go.
Mayte Garcia: My sister lived in New York for eight years. She would go and take pictures, and I've always missed it. But there's competition and I feel, a little bit of negativity [within the Latino community]. But the positives are more then the negatives.
PR.com: Do you think that a sense of competition within the Latino community is something that needs to be improved?
Mayte Garcia: I just think we should be more supportive. Because we are, I think, the largest minority, and it's happening. We're finally getting up there. Let's not try to hold each other back. We have to push each other.
PR.com: Do you think as far as relationships go, that Latino men get a bad rap? What's your take on that?
Mayte Garcia: It's funny, 'cause I've never dated a Latino. But my dad is the ultimate Latin lover! But I think it's great. I just have never been around to date any of them. I think in general, I don't typecast it on Latinos. I think men, in general are kind of... (She trails off and cracks up laughing and I follow suit, as we are probably both having the same thoughts)
PR.com: What purpose do you see the Si TV Network fulfilling, both socially and politically among 18-34 year old Latinos?
Mayte Garcia: Well I personally think that Latinos seeing other Latinos on TV is amazing. Rita Moreno! That was the only Latina I saw on TV, that I can remember growing up. I think that's what makes [Si TV] so great. You have to see your own on TV and being successful and working and making money. And I think you feel a sense of pride, like, "Wow! I can do that!" It's motivational and it's so important.
PR.com: You felt deprived growing up because you didn't see faces that looked similar to your own on TV and you were searching for role models...
Mayte Garcia: Absolutely! It was Madonna and people like that. Now it's really cool that we have Jennifer Lopez, Eva Mendes... all these people now on TV being successful, so it's like, "I can do that too!" For me, I always had that drive and didn't care.
PR.com: Everyone gets their inspiration from somewhere. You started off as a dancer, and you were pretty successful. Where did you get the idea in your mind or the confidence to say, this is something I want to do and can do?
Mayte Garcia: For me it was my parents, but I just had that drive. And then also working with the people who I worked with (legendary singer Prince was her mentor). They were very supportive. I worked hard, and definitely my parents were very supportive.
PR.com: Did your parents encourage you to take dance lessons when you were growing up?
Mayte Garcia: Oh yeah. My mom wanted to be a dancer and her mother didn't let her, so when I wanted to, she was very supportive.
PR.com: How do you see the Si TV Network evolving over the next five years?
Mayte Garcia: I see it [becoming] as big as it wants to be. It's a great network and the shows that are on it... and it's not just for Latinos, you know? It'll be big!
PR.com: And Eric, you're Cuban, correct?
Eric Cubiche: Yeah, I'm Cuban and I was born in L.A.
PR.com: Do you feel any generational gap between you and your parents, since they weren't born here?
Eric Cubiche: No, because in Cuban culture, the family life is a lot closer, so you don't really ever feel a generation gap.
PR.com: Which language was spoken mostly, in your house growing up?
Eric Cubiche: Spanish. I kind of feel weird talking to my mom in English. When my mom tries to talk to me in English, I'm like, "Mom! Talk Spanish to me, please!"
PR.com: Do you think in Spanish or English? (Eric told me at the end of our interview, that he thought this was my best question. Go figure.)
Eric Cubiche: I think in English, sometimes I think in Spanish though. When I'm around Spanish people, then I think in Spanish.
PR.com: You're currently a DJ at 100.3FM The Beat, in Los Angeles, right? Otherwise known as Z100 in New York! (I laugh, thinking this is hilarious and I hear dead silence from Eric.)
Eric Cubiche: What is it??
Eric Cubiche: In New York??
PR.com: Yeah! (Tough room. I gracefully change the subject) How did Si TV find you, and how did they cast you to co-host "Across the Hall?"
Eric Cubiche: I was working at a different TV station, L.A. TV. I was working there and doing a couple different shows and then I auditioned for Si TV and they picked me.
PR.com: When did "Across the Hall" start airing on Si TV?
Eric Cubiche: It started about two years ago. We've done two seasons.
PR.com: Did you watch Univision or Telemundo when you were growing up?
Eric Cubiche: I watched El Chavo del Ocho. Did you ever watch that?
Eric Cubiche: You don't know El Chavo del Ocho?? (No, but I know Z100 :) Oh my god! It's a huge show! In Spanish culture it's a huge show!
(Someone from the Si TV Network chimes in and I'm told it's like a Spanish version of The Three Stooges, but Eric strongly disagrees.)
Eric Cubiche: No, it's like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, but for Spanish kids. Everybody watches that show.
PR.com: Do you feel a connection with urban culture in general or just Spanish culture?
Eric Cubiche: Both. I'm a chameleon. I adapt to wherever I am. I was born in Hawthorne and I grew up in Huntington Beach [CA]. Because I've worked at an urban radio station, I've been asked, "Am I comfortable when I go to an all black club?" And I don't even notice that anybody's black, or anybody's Latin or anybody's Asian. I don't care.
PR.com: Are you currently Deejaying live, around Los Angeles?
Eric Cubiche: Yeah. That's how I started on the radio. I started DJing as a mixer and that's how I got on the radio. Then I parlayed that into being an on air personality. I do a bunch of clubs in Hollywood, and in Orange County too.
PR.com: Is it a smooth transition from radio to TV?
Eric Cubiche: Yeah, because I know the music and the culture.
PR.com: So it's like DJing, but in front of the camera...
Eric Cubiche: Absolutely. When you have a passion for something, it comes naturally.
PR.com: Who are your favorite artists?
Eric Cubiche: I like Sade, I like Julio Iglesius, and I like Kanye West a lot ... 50 Cent, Game...Godsmack, Pearl Jam, Nirvana...all different types of music.
PR.com: How do you envision the Si TV Network contributing to Latin Culture?
Eric Cubiche: It's doing something that nobody else is doing. You don't have to be 100% full Latin all the time. The new generation of people growing up, they speak Spanglish (A mix of English and Spanish). Other networks are hardcore Spanish, and it's not all about that. A lot of the Latino TV stations, they fall into those stereotypes and it's kind of whack.
PR.com: Stereotypes, how?
Eric Cubiche: A lot of Spanish TV Stations fall into those stereotypes where they do all the crazy shit. All the crazy TV shows... it's real chauvinist actually. Women always in bikinis. I don't mind it, but it's not a good image. I mean, I enjoy a girl in a bikini as much as anyone, but on a TV show at 3pm in the afternoon, I wouldn't want my kid watching it. A girl in a G String walking around, and all that stuff. What Si TV is doing...it's not perpetuating those stereotypes. It's a little different flavor.
PR.com: Si TV is showing women in a more positive light?
Eric Cubiche: Oh, absolutely.
PR.com: Does Si TV want to embrace urban culture or move away from it?
Eric Cubiche: Urban culture has become "pop" now. That's why you hear all these pop stations playing urban music. Urban culture turned pop, so everybody's embracing it. It's pop culture now. When you hear 50 Cent on a pop radio station, you're like, "What?! Are you kidding me right now??" (We laugh)
PR.com: Where do you envision the Si TV Network going and growing over the next five years?
Eric Cubiche: The network in gonna grow big. Latinos are a big percentage of the population in the United States. It's a matter of Si TV being able to get to all those people. And the more it grows, I think the more people are going to embrace it.
After the formal part of the interview is over, Eric asks me if I thought our conversation went well and then he gives me a rundown of all of the New York radio stations he does know, in hopes of redeeming himself. We chat about 97.1 - Hot 97 (New York's biggest hip hop station), and his love of Miami, before saying our goodbyes.
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