Gentefied feels like home. It’s because of this that I’ve struggled writing this review. With only one other US-centered Latinx show on Netflix, specifically from the US-born perspective, seeing a city like the one I grew up in, a family, much like mine, and brown faces speaking Spanglish and just living their lives feels revolutionary. It feels like I’m being seen for the first time in a story that features my tías, my primos, my friends, and me.
Originally a 2017 Sundance digital darling of the same name, Gentefied was created by two Chicanx first-gen writers, Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez. Now a Netflix Original, Gentefied tells the story of three Mexican-American cousins who are struggling to chase the American Dream. But each of them has different ideas of what success means and different connections to their Mexican-American community. By looking at one family and the different experiences within it, we see different ideas of what the Mexican-American experience can be.
For Erik (Joseph Julian Soria), he’s supposed to be a statistic, like his father was. But instead, he works in his grandfather’s taco shop Mama Fina’s where he uses his love of reading to connect with the kids who come into the shop. Ana (Karrie Martin) is an artist. A queer Chicana, we look at her relationship with her mother and her girlfriend which allows the show to focus issues like homophobia and anti-blackness which is prevalent within our communities. But Ana also shows the audience what it’s like to go for your dream and what happens when your dream may mean betraying your community. Her struggle is a common one, investigating what chasing your dream means for brown women in relation to their family, friends, and community.
Then there is Chris (Carlos Santos). He’s the coconut – brown on the outside, white on the inside. It’s a name I know all too well; something my tío called me every time I tried to speak Spanish around him. With dreams of being a chef and going to culinary school in Paris, he’s just not fitting in back home in Boyle Heights. Like his father, he left the community and now that he’s back, working in the kitchens with other Mexicans who are looked down on every day and belittled, he has to confront his privilege.
While each of them chases their individual dream, they all converge on Pop’s restaurant, Mama Fina’s, where they push back against gentrification of their neighborhood even while being unlikely participants in it, using it to their advantage. The series navigates important themes like identity, class, and balancing the generational gaps that separate us from our parents. Gentefied is a truly bilingual story that uses each of the cousins to highlight different identities that Latinx from different cultures can find themselves in, all of which are valid and all of which are dynamic.
Each of the characters talks like my family talks, like I talk, like how our communities talk. When Pop speaks in Spanish, his grandkids talk in English and, most importantly, there are small words that are never pronounced in English. I have never seen such an authentic expression of how Mexican-American communities interact, especially across generations and languages. Through language, the series also tackles the question of what is “enough.” What is Mexican enough, what is Latinx enough, and who gets to make decisions?
A love letter to Boyle Heights and communities like mine in San Antonio, Gentefied is my home. The series not only subverts stereotypes but also embraces the ones that we, Mexican-Americans, define our community by. From the neighborhood cholos who just want the chisme to the mariachis looking for a free meal and the way grandparents become parental figures, it’s all our lives. This is our gaze, our voice, and not the trauma porn that our stories are often relegated to. The humor in the series is one that hits so hard and it reminds me of my family. But in true dramady fashion, it also made me cry. From an ending that rocked me and seeing people forced into tough positions like finding housing when gentrification has pushed the rent beyond livable to seeing relationships fall apart and be built, every piece of this series hits me.
If there is one thing that Gentefied could do better, it would be to confront the internal community issues like anti-blackness as strongly as it confronts the homophobia in it. Anti-blackness is one of the largest issues Latinx face – as is colorism. In season two, this is something I would like to see more of, especially given the final scenes between Ana and her girlfriend who is Afro-Latina, played by Julissa Calderon. Additionally, other reviewers should be clear, this is a Mexican-American story and not every Latinx is Mexican. While there are ways for other Latinx to connect, this story doesn’t speak for the whole, in the same way, a Nuyorican story wouldn’t speak for Chicanx. Gentefied never claims to be more than a look at the Mexican-American experience but it does call out moments that our multitude of Latinx communities have experienced.
Gentefied is a story for Mexican-Americans by Mexican-Americans. It’s a slice of life that showcases our identity, our lives, and our dreams just by showing us as we are. There isn’t anything sexy or stereotyped. There are no gangs and it doesn’t center trauma. Where On My Block showcased the reality of living in bad parts of towns while also showcasing the way community functions within them, Gentefied shows the life of those who exist outside of that. It adds to our stories and treats us like we don’t have to be special or in pain in order to be deemed worthy of being showcased. Our lives are enough. We are enough.
Gentefied season one will stream exclusively on Netflix, February 21, 2020.
Gentefied is a story for Mexican-Americans by Mexican-Americans. It’s a slice of life that showcases our identity, our lives, and our dreams just by showing us as we are…Our lives are enough. We are enough.