Who are the actual aliens in Roswell, New Mexico?

by Sarah M. Vasquez

Roswell, New Mexico is one of the many TV show reboots in recent years, but it was apparent from the opening scene that this iteration is not a straight copy and paste version of the original. The CW show is about a woman who returns to her hometown to be with her father on the 10-year anniversary of her sister’s death, but she also reunites with her high school classmate, Max Evans, and his inner circle.

Throughout the season Liz and her father, Arturo—an undocumented immigrant—are constantly on the receiving end of racially-driven harassment. The town blames Liz’s older sister, Rosa, for the car accident that killed her and two classmates. Leading the charge is one of the victim’s brothers, who vandalizes the family’s alien-themed Crashdown Cafe.

During the first episode, he shoots inside the cafe, hitting Liz with one of the bullets. Liz should have died from the wound, but she’s saved by Max. Her tenacious curiosity leads her to discover that he has healing powers because he is an alien from another planet. Max, his sister Isobel and brother Michael are survivors of the 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, but they stayed inside their pods until 1997. When they were discovered, Max and Isobel were adopted, and Michael went into foster care. They’ve kept their true identity a secret until Max revealed it to Liz.   

The original Roswell TV show aired during the heyday of the WB in the late ’90s, joining Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with beautiful 20-somethings playing teenagers dealing with typical high school issues: crushes, first times and in Roswell’s case, trying to make it to graduation before the government gets to them. It was based on the Roswell High book series written by Melinda Metz. Diversity wasn’t on the forefront during those days, and Liz Ortecho became Liz Parker, played by Shiri Appleby, on the show. Incidentally, Appleby directed an episode of the reboot and is set to direct another one for the next season.

Roswell, New Mexico takes place 10 years after high school graduation (with amazing ’90s throwbacks). The main characters are adults inching their way to their 30s, allowing the show to tackle more mature issues that are prevalent during these current political times.

While the show is a science fiction drama about UFOs, it feels like one big metaphor for the current immigration debate. Some of the anxiety Max expresses about his hidden identity mirrors the same anxiety Liz has for her father. They both do what they can to avoid attention from a government entity, like avoiding hospitals, because knowing their secret could mean leaving Roswell, either through deportation or to become a science experiment.

Show creator/showrunner/executive producer Carina Adly MacKenzie and some of the cast attended the ATX Television Festival this summer in Austin to talk about the first season that aired earlier this year.

When MacKenzie was approached to bring Roswell back to the small screen, she asked herself what could she bring to the story. She told the crowd that she wanted to bring Liz back to her Latina roots, so Jeanine Mason, a Cuban-American, was hired to play Liz, in Roswell, New Mexico.

MacKenzie admitted that she had a lot of anxiety about whether or not she was the right person to tell this story and asked herself why shouldn’t she give this up for a Latina showrunner.

Growing up, MacKenzie attended Islamic school every Sunday and considers herself as a Muslim. But because she has dirty blond hair and blue eyes, she said she “passes.”

“Nobody looks at me on the street and thinks that I’m Muslim, or when phobia is directed at Muslim people, I don’t get that,” MacKenzie said during the panel. “I have this privilege of being able to kind of hide.”

In Roswell, New Mexico, the same people who say racist comments towards Liz and Arturo are the same people that treat Max, Isobel and Michael as human beings even though they are the ones that are actually aliens.

“I wanted to tell the story of what it feels like when people believe that the people that you love are the enemy, but that you kind of pass as this safe person,” said MacKenzie.

Max, Isobel and Michael assimilated as a way of survival. Max is a sheriff’s deputy. Isobel is a socialite with a doting husband, and Michael is a mechanic. In the episode, “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” Isobel organizes a screening of Mars Attacks!, the Tim Burton film that is exactly what the title says, for a fundraiser. When Max tells his sister that he was hoping for the more lighthearted ’80s film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, they both smiled when Isobel replies that “xenophobia sells more tickets.” To the town, they pass, but they also carry this burden of living a lie and the fear of what will happen if their secret comes out.

Behind these stories is the diverse writing staff that include Latinx writers. MacKenzie said that the writing room for the upcoming season is more diverse, and some of the writers are on their path to citizenship. The writing room also works with advocacy groups, such as Define American, that shift the conversation about immigrants and citizenship in America, to fully develop these types of stories for the show.

Also, MacKenzie shared that she writes about what she loves, but also what makes her angry.

“And I’ve been kind of angry lately,” said MacKenzie. “There’s a lot of stuff politically that I really want to address.”

The first season of Roswell, New Mexico can be viewed TheCW.com or Netflix. Season 2 will air in 2020.

Sarah M. Vasquez is a writer and photography based in Marfa, Texas. Her work has appeared in the Texas Observer and Big Bend Sentinel. She covers Latinx issues and pop culture for LatinxSpaces and Luz Collective.