BRIAN CONTRERAS, Los Angeles Times
When she was growing up in New Jersey, Alexia Del Valle had a mural of the Hollywood sign on her bedroom wall. She dreamed of making it out to Los Angeles.
She doesn’t need paintings anymore. Now that she’s part of the Familia Fuego, an all-Latino TikTok collective living high in the Hollywood Hills, she can have the real deal whenever she wants.
“I got here and looked outside our window, and there’s the Hollywood sign,” said Del Valle, 23. “I literally was crying.”
A world-class view is one of the many perks that come with being part of the Familia. Del Valle moved into the group’s $2.2-million shared home last September. Ever since, she has been brainstorming ideas, collaborating on videos and advancing her budding entertainment career alongside four other young social media stars: Leo González, Monica Villa, Jesus Zapien and Isabella Ferregur. With the backing of DirecTV and the influencer marketing firm Whalar, the quintet have gone from working service industry day jobs to doing shots with Neil Patrick Harris, watching the Chargers alongside Roddy Ricch and living down the street from Quentin Tarantino.
As both Hollywood and the influencer economy wrestle with questions of diversity and representation, Familia Fuego is the rare project that’s unabashedly, wholeheartedly Latino. How many other influencers could get 50,000-plus likes on a video about pozole? That they’re based out of a city that’s nearly half Latino, but in an extravagantly wealthy neighborhood where that proportion is closer to 10%, further colors the uneasy task the TikTokers have of representing their heritage while also making inroads into historically white career fields.
“It’s definitely challenging” being a high-profile Latina influencer, said Del Valle, who’s of Puerto Rican descent and has 1.5 million followers on her personal TikTok account (the shared Familia Fuego page has another 127,000). “But it’s also special, because it’s giving us an opportunity to represent where we come from. It seems more rewarding, in a way. … We’re putting ourselves out there, and our people out there also.”
People often assume that influencers are all rich or have limitless resources, Del Valle added, but she doesn’t think she’d have been able to move to California without the help of Familia Fuego’s corporate sponsors. “People don’t see that we really came from humble backgrounds.”
Social media can sometimes be dominated by conspicuous displays of wealth: designer outfits, globe-trotting vacation selfies, Michelin-rated food porn. The Familia Fuego doesn’t entirely reject those signifiers — in some posts, they practice their red carpet struts or cross paths with celebrities — but they’re also more interested in “mocking the daily struggles” of service industry work, as Zapien puts it, than most influencers. A recurring sketch series in which they impersonate retail employees finds them wrangling nightmare customers and fighting over who gets the worst shifts. Other bits center around flaky co-workers, callous HR reps and overfamiliar recruiters.
It’s a perspective rooted in personal experience. Before the Fuego house, Zapien, 24 and Mexican American, worked at Walmart, Disneyland and then a bank. “I was super shy,” he said. “And then I was like, ‘I’m too broke to be shy.’”
Now he does TikTok full-time, while his sponsors support him with things such as studio space, housekeeping service and staple food deliveries: “It’s nice to get paid to do what you love.”
Del Valle worked at Disney World before graduating from college in 2020. Of all the TikTok collectives in L.A., Familia Fuego may have the highest proportion of members who can instinctively show you how to do a “Disney point,” the special hand gesture park employees have to learn.
The rest of the crew followed their own winding paths toward influencerdom. Villa, a 24-year-old Chicana, used to work at a catering company. Ferregur, 21 and from a mixed Mexican Cuban family, did boat rentals. González, 27 and also Mexican American, hoped to become a television reporter. He worked at broadcast stations across California and Nevada before a TikTok of him parodying a newscaster blew up and he decided that social media might be a “less traumatic” career.
“I’ve never been able to call myself an influencer,” González said when The Times spoke with him and the rest of the Familia. All five sat around the house’s dining room table; González had recently passed two million followers on his personal account, and they were celebrating over croquettes and guava pastelitos. “But after a content house, maybe you’re an influencer.”
“I still cringe,” Ferregur said. “I don’t call myself an influencer.”
“In Ubers, I always tell people I’m a freelance video editor,” González agreed.
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