Los Angeles Times

Comedy (or therapy?) about Latina moms

Fans of Jonathan Chavez’s loving jabs on TikTok say he channels their mothers perfectly: ‘We all had the same mom.’

- JEAN GUERRERO @jeanguerre

Jonathan Chavez can channel your Latina mom better than you.

Known as Paqjonatha­n to his more than 2 million followers across TikTok and Instagram, the 23-year-old Angeleno with bleached pink hair belongs to a growing community of Generation Z Latinos making a living by creating autobiogra­phical digital content.

He became a social media sensation from his mostly Spanish-language Latina mom skits, which resonate with first- and second-generation citizens, often millennial­s and Gen Xers who see their moms in his comedy. But he’s increasing­ly making skits in English and featuring younger characters to reach people in his own less bilingual generation.

I met Chavez on a recent rainy Friday in downtown L.A. at Pluma Cafe, where we both wore black faux fur coats by coincidenc­e. I drank café de olla with oat milk; he munched on avocado toast. I’m a millennial, and I wanted to talk about his Latina mom skits, which he told NPR he was ready to move past because they attract older fans and make people mistake him as older. “You all are gonna get in between my dating life,” he joked.

He’s still making those skits, but he wants to branch out, and to be seen as more than a comic. He’s releasing love songs and a podcast.

Chavez’s mom skits, inspired by his own mother, are a central way he’s connecting with his bilingual audience, but he’s conflicted about their popularity. “I feel like I’m talking s— about my mom in a way,” he told me. “I feel like I’m offending her or exposing her.”

But the humor in his skits works because of his deep affection for his own mom and other matriarchs he knows. Ana Molina, from the rural Mexican state of Chihuahua, raised him and two girls by herself for years, cleaning homes and businesses and working in fast-food restaurant­s after their dad became an addict. Chavez describes her: “strong, ambitious, and funny. She’s very funny ... funny quick.”

Chavez’s characters are hilarious, but not necessaril­y caricature­s. The conversati­ons, the facial expression­s and intonation, the logical contradict­ions are eerily familiar to Latinos, especially those raised by overworked, frustrated mothers who are trying to keep their kids on track.

In one video, “Latina moms when it gets chilli outside,” he plays a son casually telling his mom he’s going out. He also plays the mom, cleaning in the kitchen. “Put on a sweater. It’s too cold outside, honey,” the mom says in Spanish, an order mixed with sweetness. It escalates. “Put on a sweater. Look, just now I went outside. ... It’s so cold, I couldn’t stand it.” The son says he’s not cold. By the end, the mom is yelling, “Put on a sweater! Come back and put on a sweater! It’s cold outside! I’m cold!!!”

In many of his videos, Chavez wears a purple shirt that says “Nadie Me Ayuda En Esta Casa” — Nobody Helps Me in This House. It’s a line from a video in which he plays a mom declining a son’s offer to help clean, only to complain that nobody ever helps her.

Chavez’s mom isn’t his only inspiratio­n. He sometimes crowdsourc­es ideas from fans. And sometimes, the message is painful. “Mexican Abuelas being colorist from day one” was inspired by his grandma’s comments toward him and his mother. It’s among his more popular videos, with 3.8 million views and thousands of commenters sharing similar stories. He channels the hurtful sugariness in which colorism is often coated, saying in Spanish with a smile: “How dark my son is. That’s how I want him: just like that, a dark one, my cutie.”

Demanding mothers who berate their children exist in every color and culture. But Chavez’s nuanced skits can be deeply cathartic for Latinos. When I first found them, I played them again and again, awestruck by this stranger turning my memories into comedy.

In comments, thousands of people share identical stories in Spanish and English. “We all had the same mom,” wrote one. “I feel seen,” added another.

During a recent visit to my Puerto Rican mother’s house, I played her Chavez’s videos. We were cuddling on the couch, content on rosé wine after a birthday party I’d organized for her. “Mom, this is you,” I said.

In “Latina moms blaming you for everything that happens,” Chavez, playing a mom, falls with a thud. “I fell because of your fault,” he cries. “Because you’re all looking at me — you knock me down with your gaze. You see I’m carrying this, and you don’t help me! I don’t know what you’re going to do when I die.”

I glanced at my mom. Her eyebrows were scrunched but she was smiling in recognitio­n. At the last line, a trademark of hers, she chortled. “It’s me,” she said.

In some videos, Chavez refers to conduct he once thought of as normal as “traumatizi­ng” since his viewers helped him see certain behaviors — from name-calling to body shaming — as problemati­c. But he worries he’s maligning his mother.

When I called his mom for her thoughts, she told me she’s proud of him. “I want my children to be happy and for them to do what they’re passionate about,” she told me in Spanish. “Jonathan is happy. I see that he’s happy and I’m happy for him.”

At times, Molina spoke to her children in ways her parents spoke to her. “Times have changed and now we’re more careful about how we say things,” she said. “But I never did it to hurt him, and he doesn’t hurt me with his videos. I see that he does it with a lot of respect, and because we the mothers of our generation­s are that way.”

On his podcast, Chavez encourages listeners to forgive their flawed mothers. “Go to therapy or try a new hobby, try journaling, try self-care, try speaking to them about it — I know some parents no se prestan para eso,” he says, acknowledg­ing in Spanglish that some are incapable of dialogue. “But try something!” he says with a laugh. “Sure my mom has f— up with me and my siblings, right? I can’t say no, ’cause I don’t think the perfect parent exists, but if I focus on the bad then I’m just gonna see her for that.”

Chavez started going to therapy last summer, and he’s applying lessons he’s learned with his mother. When she’s agitated, he gently points it out to her and makes empowering statements to her. “I give therapy to my mom,” he told me, laughing.

He added, “The way my mom is, it made me so difficult to communicat­e with — it made me crazy, a little crazy. If somebody tries to give me advice, those are fighting words, I get defensive right away. But she also made me tougher.”

His complicate­d feelings come through in his skits, which don’t villainize the mother characters. But he doesn’t glorify any mistreatme­nt either, like one Latino social media comedian who sells merchandis­e boasting of being raised by “La Chancla,” a flip-flop sometimes thrown by Latina mothers at misbehavin­g children.

Leslie Priscilla, the author of a forthcomin­g book about chancla culture, told me she sees Chavez as one of the few social media comedians provoking thoughtful conversati­on about problemati­c mothering in Latinx households. “He’s naming that this isn’t normal and that this is traumatic,” she said.

She contrasts him with George Lopez, the Mexican American stand-up comedian who in a 2020 Netflix special framed the beating of Latinx children as a virtue. His audience proudly chanted of a child: “F— him up!”

Such content perpetuate­s false stereotype­s of Latinos as uniquely violent. Priscilla, also the founder of Latinx Parenting, told me that healing from intergener­ational trauma emerges from recognizin­g the abuse as wrong while contextual­izing it empathetic­ally.

My friend Armida López, an actress and filmmaker from El Salvador, told me Chavez’s videos help her see her mom “in a brighter light.” Her mom often made her kneel on raw rice for hours as punishment when she was a child. “I always thought my mom was the only bad one,” she said. Then she found Chavez’s Instagram. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not the only one.’ I feel a little better. It’s almost like, we’re all in it together.”

The alchemy of Chavez’s performanc­es is rooted in his childhood: a house full of music, which his mother blasted for comfort as she struggled in a country that wasn’t her own. When Chavez was growing up in Denver, Molina sang along to the Mexican singer Jenni Rivera and regional music. He loved it. By age 5, he’d invite neighbors over to watch him sing songs by Rivera and the Mexican pop group RBD. It felt amazing to perform.

But he didn’t think he could make it in entertainm­ent. He rarely saw brown people on screen. He did well in school and was soon training to become a nurse, posting skits inspired by his mom and friends on social media for fun. Then the videos blew up.

He realized he could become a star — maybe even as big and bright as Rivera someday.

His mother was nervous when Chavez shared his plan to move to L.A. to pursue an alternativ­e path, but she believed in him and the values he’d learned. “He’s a very responsibl­e boy,” she told me. “He never forgets that he has a mother — he always calls me, he tells me everything he does, if he’s happy or sad. Since he was very little, he was very mature.”

Chavez may not want to be seen as wise beyond his years, but it’s a gift his mother gave him. His comedy is a bridge between Latinx generation­s. He’s a decade younger than me and decades younger than many mothers, but he’s bringing many of us closer together, through laughter instead of the burdens we’ve been carrying.

Nuanced skits riffing on their culture and home lives can be cathartic for generation­s of Latinos. Even some moms have to concede that Chavez has got them pegged.

 ?? Ella Hovsepian Getty Images ?? JONATHAN CHAVEZ walks the red carpet on Jan. 27 in Bell Gardens as Del Records celebrates hitting 10 million subscriber­s on YouTube. He posts online in English and Spanish as Paq jonathan.
Ella Hovsepian Getty Images JONATHAN CHAVEZ walks the red carpet on Jan. 27 in Bell Gardens as Del Records celebrates hitting 10 million subscriber­s on YouTube. He posts online in English and Spanish as Paq jonathan.
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