Bobby Gonzalez and Jeffrey Licon on The Garcias and the power of representation

The Brothers García portrays the trials and tribulations of a Mexican American family in San Antonio, Texas, but it represents so much more than your typical sitcom. During its four-year run on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s, The Brothers García became a groundbreaking show for its authentic depiction of the Latino community by an all-Latino cast and creative team. Almost two decades later, co-creator Jeff Valdez is looking to inspire a new generation of fans with a sequel to the hit series titled The Garcias.

Set 15 years after the original series, the Garcia family is all grown up as they gather for a family summer vacation in Mexico. The show brings back all of the original cast members including Bobby Gonzalez (George Garcia) and Jeffrey Licon (Carlos Garcia). Digital Trends spoke with Gonzalez and Licon about the long journey to reboot The Brothers García, the challenges of returning to characters from their teenage years, the importance of representation in Hollywood, and why it continues to be a landmark show.

Goerge and carlos smile at each other in a scene from the garcias.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: This was a 10-year-long odyssey by creator Jeff Valdez to get this show back on the air. What were your initial reactions when you first heard from Jeff that he was interested in rebooting the show?

Jeffrey Licon: I can tell you exactly where I was when I got that phone call. I was on the road, working in Wisconsin. When you get a phone call from Jeff Valdez, all the emotions go through your body because he’s like a father figure to us. But, he’s also our boss, so there are all these different things that are running through my head like, “Oh my God. I need to know what this is about. Oh my God. Am I in trouble?” It was great getting that phone call, and then he explained his intentions and what his plans were. I literally just had to take a moment to myself and let it all sink in. I’m glad I only took a moment and I’m glad I didn’t hold my breath either because it would take a few years. But just like [Jeff Valdez] said, he did exactly what he set out to do. I couldn’t be more proud of him, and I couldn’t be more proud of the product that we were able to produce.

Bobby Gonzalez: And I couldn’t be more proud of Jeffrey! I mean I honestly didn’t believe it for a second. I thought I was having a vivid dream because it was weird. I don’t expect anybody to believe me, but like three months or so before that call, I had a really vivid dream that we were doing a reunion episode. It was just one episode, and I remember walking down the stairs leading to the set, seeing the house again and seeing everybody, and how happy I was. But I woke up and I was like, “Oh, such a great dream. Too bad that will never happen.” Then, [Jeff Valdez] called me and I just didn’t believe it for a second.

I think I was mostly monosyllabic in our conversation like, “Yeah … great. Yeah.” I just couldn’t really speak. I hung up on the call, and the person I was dating at the time was like, “Who was it?” I just didn’t say anything. She says, “Who was it,” and I’m like “It was my old boss.” That’s all I said. It was weird. There was so much attached to that. There were just so many memories and it was a big thing, but that’s all I could say.

As Jeffrey [Licon] said, it was three years from that phone call to us filming in Mexico. Every single time we would reach a milestone or we got closer, I was like, “OK, now it feels real.” Until like a day later, it doesn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. I’m still dreaming. We keep going and keep going. Finally, in my very first scene with Jeffrey, which is the first scene that I actually filmed in the series, when I heard rolling and I looked and it was the two of us in the room, that’s when it finally felt real. I was finally just like “Oh, I’m home.” I felt like I was home again. It was such a fulfilling feeling.

You are both returning to characters that you played 20 years ago. During The Brothers García, you’re both teenagers, so the stakes are much lower. In HBO Max’s The Garcias, you are husbands, fathers, and business partners. Did you find any challenges with revisiting these characters at an older age?

Gonzalez: I’ve talked about my relationship with trying to figure out what it was like to be a father and be a husband. There were challenges with that. I haven’t talked enough about what it was like to revisit this character in regards to Carlos, Jeffrey’s character. It was kind of strange because we had a status change. In the original series, I was a low-status character and he was a high-status character whenever we were together. Now, it’s completely flip-flopped. I’m now a high-status person. He’s a low-status person. Finding that was a little bizarre.

I still look up to [Jeffrey’s character] as an older brother. And now, I’m highly critical of him because the stakes are very high. I can’t just rely on that sort of familial relationship anymore, because if I were to do that and just treat him like my older brother, our business fails. So there’s so much more that I have to deal with and I have to be harsh with him. I feel like I’m in the right for most of it because I do think that he’s making a lot of mistakes and I don’t trust his character. Every single time I feel like he is given an opportunity to change my mind, I’m just reinforced on my original ideas of who he is, which is a slacker. So there’s a lot of growth that I have to do to both accept my new role while still kind of keeping the love for him that I should always have.

Licon: In Carlos’ case, a humbling process is something that he can definitely always use. So this definitely has brought him a little bit back down to reality. He’s still very high on himself, but now he understands that there are other people on this planet. Two of them are his actual children, and one of them is his wife. There are other people that can be just as important to him as himself. I feel like he’s constantly becoming a better person and wants to be a better person and is trying to be a better person. A better father, a better husband, a better brother, a better son. That’s what I admire most about his character is his constant willingness to pursue that track of just becoming better every day no matter what.

The entire cast on the poster of the garcias.

If someone has never seen The Brothers Garcia, what can they expect to see in The Garcias?

Licon: It’s a family show where you can relate to all aspects of the family, from the grandparents at the table to the different individual families that have their own uniqueness, characters, and qualities. The kids bring so much love and joy to the screen. There’s really something to connect to, no matter what kind of family, how big of a family or small of a family you are. If you don’t even have a family, then we are your family. We can connect with all of that. We really do have this openness to let you feel like you are just one of us.

Gonzalez: To piggyback off that a little bit, it’s not just about the family that you’re born with, but it’s also about your chosen family, too. I think we all feel that as cast members because everybody who comes into our little group is now family. We have that chosen family in the show. We have branched out. We have wives and children.

There’s a lot that’s going on badly with the world right now, even outside of COVID. Our world has hit a rough patch. I’ve always thought that art is an inverse mirror of life. When things are going really well, we really want to explore sort of the darker aspects of humanity or the darker cores within ourselves to better understand it. When things are really bad outside, we want to escape into the world as it should be, and into idealism in a lot of ways. So I think that that’s what our show does. It doesn’t show the world as it is. It shows the world as it should be, where this sort of representation is absolutely normal and where these families are absolutely normal. Because in a lot of ways, they are. We’re just not seeing it in art. And so for our show, we don’t have any huge action scenes. Nobody dies, no drugs or anything like that. It’s a wholesome family.

I’m going to quote Vanessa [Pitynski]. She said our show is like “a warm hug.” That’s how I feel when I watch it. That’s how we felt when we made it. I think that’s how people will feel for anybody who has ever been disenfranchised. I think they’re going to see themselves and their families represented in the show. But even for people who are not disenfranchised, I still think they’re going to be able to enjoy the show and just enjoy the wholesomeness of it because the world needs it right now.

It’s almost unbelievable how you were able to shoot this between the scorching hot weather, tropical storms, and COVID. How were you able to endure all these challenges to put out this show?

Licon: They could have told us that we had to wear 30-pound hazmat suits and gas masks for this opportunity alone. It’s scary to think of the things that I would have done just to be able to be a part of it. Yet, no matter what we had to endure or go through, I would do it again 10 times, no questions asked.

George and carlos stand next to each other in a scene from the garcias.

The Brothers García was a groundbreaking show, especially for its representation of the Latino community in both the cast and crew. You were both teenagers during the show’s original run, and we all tend to look at things differently at a younger age. Did it take some time, perhaps after the show was off the air, to realize that you were a part of a landmark show? 

Gonzalez: So I didn’t at all. It’s weird because I had a very innocent view of it. I wasn’t jaded by Hollywood or the world yet, so I was just like, “Oh, cool. I’m on a sitcom.” It never occurred to me the fact that everyone around me was also Latino. Maybe it came from watching so much I Love Lucy growing up, and seeing Desi Arnaz, another Cuban on television. I thought it was normal. I didn’t know that we were struggling so much to have proper representation in Hollywood. Even back in the 2000s, like any representation, even negative representation, we barely had any of it. It took other people to tell me how important it was — the fans that would reach out to me, the people that would see me on the street, the comments on YouTube.

To have reporters or interviewers explain what a groundbreaking show it was, I started to realize that wow, no, this isn’t normal. It should be. It felt so normal, but it isn’t. I think that’s what we’re trying to do with this new series again. Coming back now, I am more jaded. I do see how important this show is, and I really took that to heart. I worked so hard, we all did, to really make the best possible product that we could. We don’t want to let anybody down.

It’s not just about the fans. I remember seeing a YouTube comment where somebody said this is the first time they ever saw themselves and their family on television. That destroyed me. It wasn’t a happy moment for me. It made me really sad because it shouldn’t take that. It shouldn’t take 20 years in between those two things either. So I’m really happy that we’re back. I wish, you know, Hollywood had done a better job. We could have so many of these different shows. But I’m so proud to be a part of this one.

Licon: Just piggybacking on that, acting as a child is pretty complex, and it’s a very interesting way to grow up. I started the show when I was 13 or 14, and played the character throughout my entire high school career. You’re trying to figure out who you are still. You just want to be liked by everyone. You want to be cool. You’re going through all these normal teenage things, and then on top of that, you’re on a television show on Nickelodeon. It’s kind of loaded, you know?

As much as I loved working on the show, as many fans as there were, there were also people that would tell you to your face that they didn’t like what you were doing and kind of bully and make fun of you. That can get tough. So I’m not trying to say woe is me, but there were plenty of distractions and other things going on for us as children to not understand or grasp what we were accomplishing at the root of it. Once I actually did understand that, when I was a few years older, that’s when I was able to truly be so, so proud of being a part of the show and being a part of that history. I think about how sad it was that we were canceled and weren’t able to continue with making such an impactful show not only for all of us [Latinos], but it really is something that the entire world needs to just start normalizing and accepting.

Not only does your show have strong Latino representation, but there’s also representation from the AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] community. Did the show seek out additional diverse groups to showcase more representation?

Licon: I think it was definitely something that was on purpose. It’s meaningful in so many different ways. I know Jeff [Valdez] had been messing around with a lot of different ideas, and he’s gracious enough to give us all of his play-by-play. I remember getting phone calls from him, telling me that [my character] had one daughter and Bobby had like two. That switched. Jeff was telling us all of these different ideas that he had for the characters in the show. When something changed, you knew not to get your heart too attached to something. I think getting that type of representation on the show is powerful. It’s meaningful and it warms my heart. I love that part of the show.

Gonzalez: I think my character was actually a single father at one point, and my daughter was adopted. I think with Jeff [Valdez] – I’m speculating a little here — but I just think the pieces fit. So let’s just ride down this conspiracy theory hole with me. We have such a strong core with the original family. This is a Mexican-American family. I think the idea was to branch out a little bit. So with me, I have a Mexican-Mexican wife, and then a child who was truly Mexican and American. Then, my whole story throughout the series is about struggling with my identity, which is something that I have struggled with in real life.

I’m grateful that this show did it because I feel like it helped me, Bobby, heal. I felt it could help me heal a bit and sort of understand myself better, and where I fit in this in this country and in the world. To have a mixed-race family as well was just something that I think in hindsight must have seemed obvious to do. We had all sorts of people on the show. We have all sorts of actors from every single background on the show. I think the idea was just to make another disenfranchised group a main part of the core family. It really fits because we’re all in this together. We’re not doing this alone. All disenfranchised groups have to come together and stand as one. That’s the only way we’ll succeed and push forward and make the pathways that we want in this industry and in this world.

The Garcias is now streaming on HBO Max.

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