So, the title is a bit of wordplay since the show itself is one of the few remaining programs with a Latin/e/x perspective across the spectrum of voices within the community (though not all of them obviously as that would be way too much to deal with in any single piece of media) and it is the demographic from which I hail from as well. Aren’t words and wordplay fun? Also, just to get it out of the way, I am a fan of the show. For all my issues with some storylines and character moments, particularly in the second season, it is still a well written, acted, and produced program that also happens to be one of the few remaining Latin/e/x based shows on American airwaves/streaming. However, just because you enjoy something, doesn’t mean is isn’t flawed or that you shouldn’t criticize or analyze it. With that in mind…SPOILERS to follow.
At the moment, Gentefied has two seasons to watch on Netflix. The first season deals with the titular issue of gentrification coming to Boyle Heights and the impact that the affluent acquisition and encroachment into the community has. This narrative centers on the Morales family: Casimiro “Pop” Morales, the widowed owner of Mama Fina’s, a family operated local business on the verge of being sold to gentrifiers; Erik Morales, one of Pop’s grandsons and expectant first time father; Ana Morales, one of Pop’s granddaughters and queer aspiring artists who wants to have impact and meaning through her art; and Chris Morales, another of Pop’s grandsons who is a talented chef but also lost concerning his past, future, and identity. The entire family while going through their own personal journeys and obstacles attempt to save their family business and legacy that Pop built with his deceased wife into what it is: a pillar of the community that supported and influenced the Morales family. The second season moves slightly past the gentrification issue, though it is still very much present, into the issue of immigration and undocumented people by focusing on Casimiro’s ongoing legal documentation and immigration status and the family’s attempts to keep Pop in the United States and the family intact.
Obviously, amid the humor and personal stories of the characters, the show deals with some heavy and complicated issues which is both one of my issues of praise and criticism with the show and a lot of underrepresented media in the US. For various reasons, there always seems to be a need to have specific social issues discussed or involved in the narrative when Latin/e/x, Black, Asian, Queer, etc. stories are told. On one hand, these are necessary and important topics to discuss and, unfortunately, appear to be even more poignant and significant in the modern landscape with the various demonstrations, discourses, protests, and various other social issues and movements forming and gaining strength for both good and ill. On the other hand, sometimes we just want to see some brown, Black, Asian, or queer people doing some fun, cool shit on our screens without their identity being the center focus of their story or the complications and and obstacles they have to manage. It is all a matter of balance which is why there needs to be more films and television programs with underrepresented and seen voices leading them in front and behind the camera.
With that being stated, the core journey that the Morales family and each individual main character goes through is still very relatable and sympathetic regardless of your personal demographic boxes. For example, Ana is an aspiring artist who is struggling to succeed, or at the very least make a basic living, through her art. And while this core issue is complicated by elements of her Mexican-American identity and the ongoing gentrification and immigration issues of the overall show, her main conflict revolves around the debate of art versus commerce or capitalism and how much should artists, particularly unknown, minority artists, compromise when it comes to their beliefs and values as opposed to being able to profit and flourish from doing what they love.
Similarly, Erik’s journey is about him finally growing up from being the “lay about”, aimless youth coasting by in the world to an adult willing, ready, and able to step up and be the man his girlfriend and child needs him to be. This also culminates in Erik confronting his own abandonment issues and the father who caused them in the second season. His willingness to face his absent father is the climax of Erik’s story as he moves forward in his life by fully committing and marrying Lidia Solis, his longtime girlfriend and baby mama. As well, Chris’s story revolves around him making a choice concerning his future career path and moving beyond simply following the orders or suggestions of Pop, his father, or even his successful girlfriend who has the career and life he actually desires.
Furthermore, the second season takes the time to give the supporting cast more time and significance in the overall show. Whether this was done with original intent or as a means of keeping production going through the whole ongoing pandemic issues, these supporting stories opened up the world of the show more and gave unique perspectives, ones that even at times clashed with the main characters’ views, to the issues and concerns the Morales family is experiencing. For instance, there is significant time of season two episode five given to the character of Yessika Castillo, Ana’s activist, Afro-Latina ex-girlfriend. In this episode, the audience is taken for a day in the life of Yessika and what she has to deal with being a Black Latin/a/x woman. Thus, yes major social issues like gentrification, racism, immigration, undocumented peoples’ struggles, etc. are present in the narrative of Gentefied, but the focus is still on the personal stories and arcs of the Morales family and a few of their closer connections as they all try to simply survive in a world where even such basic desires seem more and more difficult to accomplish.
Now, truth be told, this show is personal for me, and it would be wrong to ignore that. It is amazing and meaningful to see characters and people that look, talk, and act like me, my family, and my friends on screen. Representation is so important because stories are important to people, culture, and society across the diverse spectrum of region, time, and peoples. It is even better when the media is actually entertaining, well written, and executed with such high fidelity and intent as Gentefied. I truly hope there are more season down the pipeline and that more people find this show on Netflix. It is very much worth the watch.