Centering on a Mexican-American family torn apart by savage immigration laws, Freeform’s Party of Five reboot humanizes our current reality. In the show—a modern update of the original series, which ran from 1994 to 2000—a group of children are left to fend for themselves after their parents are deported.
But this week’s episode turned its focus away from the Acosta family to tackle the distinctly precarious dilemma of their friend Matthew, a transgender immigrant played by mononymous actor Garcia (above, right). During a revealing exchange between Matthew and the Acostas’ eldest daughter, Lucia (Emily Tosta, above left), Matthew explains that he refused her advice to renew his DACA status because the document he’d be required to present, his birth certificate, no longer represents his true identity. Moved by his transparency, Lucia leans in, embracing him. “I see you,” she says.
Matthew is Garcia’s second trans role on TV. In Netflix’s Tales of the City revival last year, they portrayed Jake Rodriguez, a trans man new to Barbary Lane. Here, Garcia talks about how their personal experiences as a trans nonbinary actor informed both roles and the continuous fight for authentic representation on television.
Was shooting the heart-to-heart between you and Lucia an emotional experience for you?
I felt so many emotions that day. When you’re in the moment, you don’t know how hard it can really hit you—or at least me. It was something I personally could’ve related to, and maybe needed when I was younger. In between takes I was like, “Wow, this is how I felt.”
What attracted you to Matthew, and how did the role come about?
The audition was quite lengthy. I think they set me up with a good 16 pages! It was a lot. Reading it I was like, Trans and trans nonbinary people are often not able to live out in the open, so there are layers of keeping that part of themselves private. Then you have this other world of being an undocumented person. I personally could not identify with being undocumented, but I have a lot of close friends I grew up with that I watched go through those experiences. I admired Matthew’s ability to be on his own and travel cross-country, his willingness to keep going and survive instead of just giving up.
Where is the relationship between Matthew and Lucia going? Is it simply a beautiful friendship, or will it ever be more than that?
It takes a few turns, but I will say the relationship is always on the line of, “I’m there for you, you’re there for me, and we’re gonna have each other in so many ways you don’t even know yet.” And I think that’s the beautiful part. Lucia truly cares about Matthew, and later down the line we also see Matthew there for her. They both bring something to the table. I can’t say much, but I’m super excited to see where it goes. They’re aiming for Season 2.
For your characters Matthew and Jake, did you pull from your own experiences as a trans nonbinary person?
Yeah, it’s not so hard because obviously it’s second nature. Playing Jake, that’s what that was. The beautiful part of Party of Five is that him being trans is a part of his identity, but it’s not all of it. Obviously, there are so many layers to trans people, and also just to Matthew himself. Not everyone can identify or relate to Matthew. It’s just about being able to understand the pain—the struggles and sadness.
I read you were asked for your input on Jake for Tales of the City. Was that also the case with Matthew on Party of Five?
They’re not at all like, “This is the script. This is what it means.” The creators of the show crafted this space that’s really comfortable: “Come to me if anything is a problem or it doesn’t seem authentic.” It’s really fun to see what they come up with and how it works out. Even their willingness to talk about Matthew with me and work out any issues with any lines or stories—they’re always open to conversation.
When they were casting the role did it seem important for them to cast someone who identified as trans nonbinary?
I definitely recall that they were looking for trans Latinx actors.
Is authentic representation a big deal to you?
In the moment, of course. We want authentic representation until we no longer have to fight for it.
What do you hope the takeaway from Matthew’s situation will be for someone who doesn’t understand how trans people are specifically affected by Trump’s immigration laws?
I try not to read anything online about the show, but I came across an article on Twitter that said Matthew buying the social security number off this woman and her baby was promoting criminal behavior. I’m just still so jostled that that can be a takeaway as opposed to “This is the world we live in. This person can’t think beyond survival, the next step.”
If only people would lead more with compassion.
That’s a perfect way to put it: more compassion. Matthew’s thinking, What am I gonna eat? Where am I gonna sleep? He’s thinking about the moment because he’s not allowed the privilege to think about next week or next month. It’s just day to day. And so many people in America live like that, not just trans people or undocumented people. So I hope people see that this needs to change while we’re still under an administration that wishes to attack these people instead of help them. I hope they watch this show and see that Matthew is a person who’s just trying to live his life.
Party of Five airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on Freeform.