Some of the characters in 'The Casagrandes' were based on Miguel Puga's relatives in Boyle Heights. Photo Courtesy of Nickelodeon.
Miguel Puga. Photo Courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Miguel Puga knew he wanted to pursue drawing as a career from a very early age, but the lack of Latino representation in the arts made him think twice. This all changed one Thanksgiving Day after watching the “Peanuts” holiday special and the name of director Bill Melendez appeared in the credits. 

 “I was just like, ‘Who’s this guy?,’” he recalled. “I saw my whole family gathering around watching this cartoon and I was like, ‘hey, that’s a Latino name, It’s almost like our name.’” 

It was at this moment that he realized how a cartoon can magically bring people together. It was also a sign that becoming a successful artist was possible, and Puga went on to prove just that, first as a storyboard artist and eventually as a director and producer on several popular animated series.

Born and raised in Boyle Heights and a proud Garfield alum, the Emmy Award-winning artist says that hard work and having a goal-oriented mindset are what got him success in the entertainment industry.

He had been a full-time storyboard artist at Nickelodeon for 5 years when he got the opportunity to work on a spinoff of “The Loud House” –an animated series revolving around a middle child being raised in a large family. The spinoff, “The Casagrandes,” was developed in collaboration with “The Loud House” executive producer Mike Rubiner and writers Whitney Wetta and Sammie Crowley.

Scene from The Casagrandes. Photo Courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Puga kept his own family in mind, as well as his fond memories of Boyle Heights, while working on The Casagrandes.”

“A lot of the characters are loosely based on or influenced by some of my own brothers, or cousins, or friends I grew up with in the neighborhood here in Boyle Heights,” he says.  

Puga worked as co-executive producer and director of “The Casagrandes,” which aired on the network for three seasons, between 2019 and 2022. The series revolved around a multi-generational Latino family, who lived together in Great Lake City, a fictitious combination of Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

“A lot of the characters are loosely based on or influenced by some of my own brothers, or cousins, or friends I grew up with in the neighborhood here in Boyle Heights.”

Miguel puga

The family of 11 all lived on a second floor, above their mercado. The protagonist, a teen named Ronnie Anne, lived in one apartment with her mom María, her brother Bobby and her grandma and grandpa. The rest of the clan lived next door: Ronnie Anne’s tío and tia, and their cousins, Carl, CJ, Carlota, and baby Carlitos.

Puga hoped that families in close-knit urban communities, such as Boyle Heights., would relate to “The Casagrandes.”  He says that incorporating anecdotes and characteristics from his upbringing was crucial, and he made sure that his team worked arduously representing a Mexican-American lifestyle appropriately.

“We worked hard to make sure that they are a Mexican-American family, [and] we portray the culture the right way and not as a joke,” Puga says.

At first, it was difficult, with some of his peers not seeing what Puga envisioned for “The Casagrandes,” saying ”there’s too much Spanish” in the show or “people are not going to understand.”

Looking past his critics, Puga knew the real audience of the show would not complain about the amount of Spanish. When the show was tested in several schools around the country, “The Casagrandes” was a hit. 

“[We would hear] these kids talk about the show and they’re like, ‘oh my god, I love this,’” Puga shares. “Kids are connecting with these brown characters… looking at it as like, ‘hey, that’s just like my brother.’”

The show went on to capture TV audiences as well, earning two Daytime Emmy nominations for its first season. After Puga won the award in 2020, he took his trophy on a photo tour of some of his favorite spots in Boyle Heights, which he shared on social media.

The 38-year-old artist, who is married and has one child, says he’s currently working on a new “big” project, but could not reveal details.

With “The Casagrandes,” Puga was able to do more than just create a show based on a Mexican American family. The series, which employed multiple Latino voice actors and animators, contributed to breaking Mexican-American stereotypes by creating accurate representation and paved the way for future Latino artists in the animation industry. 

“There’s a lot of people like myself, who are Latinos from either Boyle Heights or East LA or similar areas that are working their way up in these industries,” Puga says. “And guess what, we’re leaving the door open.”

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Terra Alvarez

Terra Alvarez (She/Her) is a senior at James A. Garfield High School. She enjoys exploring, solving math equations, and dad jokes. She plans to attend a four-year university with a major in Environmental...

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