FOR US, BY US

… As in mainly Latino made, with all Latino actors and creators. After what feels like a slew of predominantly Caucasian entertainment, Netflix finally creates and releases a 10 episode first season of what definitely is a huge leap for Latinx people in an industry that hates to recognize us, perhaps because productions can’t profit off of us in Hollywood..? Who knows? Nonetheless, Gentefied is a much-needed dose of Latinx art in a world of generic television plots with a seemingly endless lack of originality. Yet, this show was kind of that, but better–there was some actual color!

Gentefied is a Netflix original series created by Marvin Lemus & Linda Yvette Chávez, Lemus also shares directorial credits with Aurora Guerrero, Marta Cunningham, and actress America Ferrera, that was released on February 21, 2020. Before the show’s concept was picked up by Netflix, it was originally a short story web-series directed by Lemus. 

Gentefied centers around a small Mexican-American family struggling to cope with the changing American culture to keep their business, Mama Fina’s Tacos, alive in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. The show follows the lives of three cousins (Erik Morales played by J.J. Soria, Ana Morales played by Karrie Martin, and Chris Morales played by Carlos Santos) who lead their unique lives in the city and work together to keep their anchor, the restaurant, from going under. Their ‘Pop’ played by Joaquin Cosio es el dueño of Mama Fina’s Tacos which he created from the ground up with his late wife, Delfina. As the restaurant enters a new era of culture, it bears the brunt of the strain as their landlord jacks up the prices to, of course, profit off them and promote the ideals of modern colonialism in American society A.K.A. to force them out and gentrify Boyle Heights.

This show is incredibly well-structured, hilariously relatable, and necessary for us (“us” meaning the young and diverse Latinx American population). We need representation of our Mexican-American community, to see the realities that people endure—it’s one thing to read about gentrification in an article or hear about it in school, but it’s a whole other thing when we see the implications, the consequences, and the impact that this one economic concept holds over an entire community. 

Gentefied shows us all of it. 

From what our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts endured working as seamstresses. To what our father, grandfathers, and uncles were forced to endure as mariachi members. It even shows the toxic machismo and homophobic culture being Mexican forces our queer youth to deal with. Or how annoying it is to be from an immigrant family and still managing to have a whitewashed sibling; meaning: a person of color (Latino in this case) who has assimilated a bit TOO much to American culture and has seemingly lost their roots to their people. Overall, we see the impacts of our community in a raw and tear-jerking manner that kept me glued to my screen. 

You will laugh, you may cry, you may get angry, you may value your family even more, but most of all, you will enjoy this television show and understand why 10 episodes are just not enough.

But taking it back a bit, Gentefied starts by introducing us to unique characters that shed light on what a modern Mexican-American family includes. And those characteristics include the uncomfortably whitewashed, hella disorganized, madly in love, beautifully queer, incredibly artistic, and very family-oriented. 

These are the aspects of modern Mexican-American life that often go misrepresented or are not even recognized at all! The only time I’ve ever seen this in American culture was with the Netflix original One Day At a Time, but they didn’t have the authenticity that Gentefied does.  Nathan Arreola, 17, said, “The fact that it was filmed in East LA, the use of Spanglish, the constant representation of our community and struggles that we hardly see, and especially the Black Latinx representation that is almost never present in these types of shows made me love it all.” 

In 2020, it’s important for our Latinx youth to see that. To see us on the television screen. Not in handcuffs, not thrown across the border, not in pain. We see us making art and giving the world those real narratives.

Out of the number of issues that this amazing show tackles, I’ve decided to hone in on the three main social motifs that I felt were the most important to the show and that deserve to be honored by California’s beautiful Latinx youth. These issues are huge in the plot and are probably huge in our lives and seeing them portrayed as we binge-watched Gentefied allowed us a chance to examine our own communities. 

Whitewashed Latinx People

Now, this is a subject that is majorly focused on throughout the show and immediately makes Chris a standout character because A.) He is a self-righteous up and coming chef. B.) He is the only character who cuffs his short sleeve shirts. And C.) He is the only fair toned male character. Growing up in a Mexican family, you immediately conclude that this list means one thing and one thing only. Es un gringo con las nalgas prietas! A.K.A. A whitewashed Mexican. In 2020, that term can be used to describe a variety of people in our community. For me, this term means a Latinx person who can’t speak Spanish, disregards our history, and turns their back on our people. As a Latinx person, you may look around your life right now and realize… ‘huh, I know a few people like that,’ or, ‘haha, I do that.’ Nonetheless, this concept is not a shared understanding and may even be one muddled with controversy. 

Hayley Espinoza, 17, said, “The term ‘whitewashed Mexicans’ is such a complex term and is in many ways, hard to understand. Like what exactly makes you less Mexican than other Mexicans? Everyone in the Mexican community has different backgrounds and that’s a hard thing for people to comprehend. A majority of Latinx folx believe that there is just one way to be Mexican, which is false. But I do think ‘whitewashed’ Mexicans do make up a lot of our community and I interpret this as people who dismiss their culture like Chris in the show.”

Although a very perplexing concept, why is it even a concept at all? 

Why is our culture so damn complex that we place these hoops in front of others to jump through to prove themselves? But most of all, why do we love to poke fun at those Latinx people who just act so… white? The answer is easy. We hate to see the Caucasian demographic within a community of Latinx. Although this is incredibly toxic it is often true. Do I like my family members drinking IPA, saying ‘quinoa’, or even cuffing their short sleeves or pants? It’s weird, obviously, but is it even weirder for me to think of them less Latino because of it?  As time continues, cultures, customs, and preferences are bound to be intertwined, we shouldn’t judge others for assimilating. We should instead embrace our cultures’ unique customs and continue to carry our own with pride. 

Overall, with the changing times, it is vital to stay united. We shouldn’t judge others for stepping outside of this imaginary sphere of culture that may be cut out for us. It’s necessary to understand the world around us, while still holding true to our roots. I mean… yeah, I can understand why quinoa is good, but you can’t beat Spanish rice.

Afro-Latinx People On Screen

Who is going to tell Hollywood that Latinx people aren’t just maids and gardeners with accents to laugh at? *crickets* Okay… here’s a better one, who’s going to tell Hollywood that Latinx people aren’t just fair toned people who can speak Spanish? Gentefied showed us the realness that is being a part of a beautiful community with a range of colors and occupations. Latinx people don’t deserve to be forced into this sphere of normality in the entertainment industry. Above all, we don’t just have a few skin tones! Yessika Castillo (played by Julissa Calderon) is a Black Puerto Rican woman, and is honestly the only young character who spoke Spanish–but I suppose I can write about the fact that young Hispanics don’t like to learn\speak Spanish in another article. Frankly, she is the only Afro-Latinx woman I have ever seen on TV, and I’ve watched a lot of TV. Why is it that in 2020, the entertainment industry hasn’t decided to showcase this? Oh, wait. I know the answer to this one! No one likes to recognize Latinx people as more than just Mexico… There are counties in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America that have Hispanics with melanin. That’s how beautiful it is to be Latinx.

In Gentefied, Yessika’s life and family are given a spotlight like never before. Audiences never see a movie where a narrative like this is provided for a population that makes up so much of the community. Not only that, but Yessika also touches on how difficult it is to find her own identity as a Puerto Rican Queer woman living in a densely Mexican populated Boyle Heights. 

About a quarter of Latinos in America are Afro-Latino, with the most predominant roots being from the Caribbean. ‘Gentefied’ made an effort to recognize that fact through the credible portrayal of Julissa Calderon and placing a focus on her character’s personal narrative. Overall, from this show, we should be sure to see more stories and more content that focuses on American Afro-Latinx people. Frankly, it’s time to have more shows that don’t follow the same generic plot and characters.  TV show creators need to highlight the diversity of American culture and people. 

I’m sure ‘Gentefied’ wasn’t the first program to provide such a narrative, and I sure hope that it isn’t the last.  

Homophobia and Latinx Culture 

Now, I know this heavyweight champion of hate deserves no introduction, so I’ll be brief. It’s a brutal force that tears families apart, can promote violence and relentless harassment, and lastly describes Latinx families so incredibly well. Es homofobia. 

As you watch this great show, you are taken on a brief, but noteworthy journey on how a Queer Identity impacts a community of Latinx people. Without providing too many spoilers, Ana Morales makes a decision that exemplifies and amplifies Queer Love in her hometown and, although her intentions were revolutionary, the reception she receives is volatile. Overall, the people of Boyle Heights, predominantly Mexican men, met such Queer Love with outright negativity.

In the show, we take a look at a common Hispanic family. Again, common. Yet, when that commonality is interrupted through the recognition of Queer culture in a community… all hell kind of begins to break loose. Spanish slurs are said and people get pretty angry. 

In looking outside the show, growing up, a Latino is raised to be the leader of the house, instruct the household, and overall, just conform to the expected behavior of a Hispanic man. From that, we are often raised to see homosexuality as something disgusting, unnatural, and even humiliating, which not only promotes negativity within a community that should be united, but also seriously taints the future generation of Latinx youth, which I seriously hate – but it is the shameful foundation of our people.  

But that sense of machismo idealisms or ‘assured sexuality’ is undermined when Queer Latinx people are included in the community.

I will admit, those hateful notions are combated with Ana and Yessika being a Queer couple and being in a family of heartwarmingly accepting individuals, yet support like that is not necessarily feasible. Nathan Arreola, 17, said, “Ana and Yessika’s relationship was beautiful and mostly accepted, but it’s not the reality. Many parents, especially grandparents, aren’t very accepting of that.”

Overall, Hispanic families may never grow out of the hateful hold of homophobia, but Gentefied definitely makes an effort to show us the perspective that uplifts and accepts our Queer members. I’d recommend that you watch this show with your problematic elders and have them take some notes. 

These three aspects of our every day lives may be felt by few or all, but it is definitely present in our modern society. As a Latinx community, we should take into account these aspects and realize how amazing we are. How our culture can be represented in such a surreal and prideful way. How diverse we are and how uplifting we can be. Cherish being Latinx and cherish the good we can bring to the culture.

Above all, this show looks at a lot more than what I mentioned above, so I urge you, if you are bored and looking for a new good show to watch… put Gentefied first on your list. You will seriously not regret it. 

Again, this show will make you feel a lot of emotions so don’t be afraid to feel them. Laugh, cry, yell, and laugh again as you binge-watch Gentefied

And lastly, don’t be afraid when you start to really crave some asada tacos after 10 minutes of the first episode.  

 

Ivan Vicente Manriquez (he/him/his)

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