A hidden Latina history, sex, war, pop music fantasies, and child snatching. This is The Secret World of Danny Lopez—the TRUE STORY of a precocious tween in 1970s Texasbased on the mondo-beyondo childhood of writer/creator Samuel Garza Bernstein. It's set in the '70s but it has everything to do with this moment, right here, right now. Because intersectionality—one of the root ideas propelling our seismic cultural shifts—is at the heart of Danny's journey to find his authentic self within his intersecting identities.
Danny's first identity: He is the son of Ivan, a Jewish cowboy from a wealthy family in San Antonio, Texas. Ivan's dad made his money during WWII selling black market cheese. Ivan fancies himself a socialist. He is magnetic, volatile, kind of hot, and probably bipolar. As far as he is concerned, rules do not apply. A year before the start of the pilot, Danny's parents split up. His mom, Linda, has custody but Ivan takes Danny and his two older brothers Jake and Jeff to live in Cairo, along with Amy, his new wife (and their new stepmother). She is so young she still has braces and wears pigtails.

In Egypt, Ivan sells arms to the Palestinians. Ostensibly as an act of conscience, though it certainly reads as a giant screw-you to his own Jewish dad. Cairo is an adventure. Danny is chased down the street by a beggar with no arms and no legs—just a rickety piece of plywood with wheels. There are air raid blackout drills across the city. The kids see propaganda films of soldiers setting children on fire with napalm. Danny doesn't know where his mom is the whole time they are in Egypt. He fantasizes about her and pretends to BE her.

This is where the pop music fantasies come in for Danny. He imagines his mother Linda as a glamorous star (though she is not a performer of any kind in real life). Danny takes on his second identity, a star, also named... Linda. He wants mass love, like Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls. Surprisingly, his macho cowboy dad has no problem with Danny dressing up like a girl. It proves what a broad-minded socialist he is. When the family returns to Texas Ivan still won’t let Danny live with her, so Danny thinks about her constantly, obsessively.

Linda's maiden name is Mayfield. Or so Danny's been told. This is when intersectionality really kicks in and Danny's identity takes a major shift. In the pilot, he discovers that his supposedly white mother is an illegal alien with a fake name and fake birth certificate.  Her parents brought her across the Rio Grande at age seven and abandoned her. She was raised by a white family as a servant and took their name. She is light-skinned. No one questioned it. But her real name is Verónica Lin López de la Peña.

Danny is thrilled with what he perceives as an exotic turn of events. He tries on the new name, pretending to be his third identity, Verónica Lin López de la Peña, singing a Mexican pop song in Spanish. More eye liner. Deeper necklines. Any larger implications of his new heritage do not yet occur to him. He wonders if Ivan will let him change his name to Danny López de la Peña, a fourth identity. You never know. Maybe he can make Ivan believe taking on a Latino name will make him more of a socialist.

For the production, this means casting for Linda will have to go another way—with sincerest apologies to Claire Foy.(And Jennifer Lopez even has the right last name already! As if Ms. Lopez would somehow be easier to get than Ms. Foy—or Bradley Cooper for that matter.) Anyway, another, more amazing revelation comes next: Danny and his brothers find out that Linda isn’t the birth mother of Jeff and Jake. They have a different mother, a secret mother. Ever since Danny can remember, his deepest, unspoken desire has been that his mom will belong only to him.
In real life, and in retrospect, it should have been fairly obvious that writer/creator Samuel Garza Bernstein and his two very white brothers were not full siblings. That’s Sam in the middle. In the family, there were no negative connotations to being Mexican, which is why the hiding of her origin was so inexplicable. Although... when the family lived on ranches, they would employ undocumented migrant workers who lived in a row of houses. Sam always thought they looked like slave quarters.
Danny knows nothing about Linda's family, but we meet Ivan's parents, Helen and Lenny, at the airport in San Antonio. As they wait for Ivan and crew to arrive Helen embarrasses Lenny by loudly taunting him about his sexual performance with his mistress. Then there's Amy, the boys' stepmother. Okay, she isn’t really THAT young, though in real life she did look a lot like Eden Sher. The truth is, she's very loving and kind. She certainly loves Ivan. But sometimes he beat her up. Like Danny remembers him doing to Linda. (On the show we won’t go there much. That’s not what the project is about, but the threat lurks.)
From the outside looking in, people think Danny and his brothers lead a wonderful, exciting life. And it IS exciting. In the first scene of the pilot Danny is by himself in the middle of the night, in the upstairs lounge of a 747. He pours himself a rum and Coke and dives back into Valley of the Dolls. He is in his secret world. Currently, eight episodes for the first season are outlined, including two set in Vegas, where Ivan loses $250,000 that he doesn’t actually have. Danny contemplates running away with a glamorous woman he meets at the pool. Once they are back in Texas, Danny keeps fighting to live with his mother and in one episode he finds the courage to run away and is arrested by a confusingly handsome sheriff's deputy. In the season finale he discovers a new emotional weapon to use against his father. In the 2nd season, Danny wins. He moves in with his mom. But it’s a shock. He struggles to accept that she's a real person, and not the glamorous star of his imagination. Plus, his dad is very much still in the picture. Fantasy keeps Danny alive. But his journey is to find his authentic self within that fantasy and settle into his true identity.

Airing a show like this would be unimaginable until this moment in the evolution of TV. It’s set in the ‘70s but it’s geared to what audiences are watching right now. It explores the wild intersections of modern life where drama and comedy collide, reflecting the way we live now. And yes, Danny is an abused child. But so much of what he experiences is funny and sweet and hopeful. Just like it was in real life. The possibility of Ivan turning violent is manageable, like fearing the Boogie Man or the Monster under the bed. We see the world through Danny's eyes and he always finds a way to thrive.