Sometimes I joke that it would be so much easier to only write about stuff that I hated. The review of For Love or Money, for example? The snark just flowed from my fingers while writing that one. But it’s so much more difficult to find the right words to describe something I loved to watch. (Now I have this song stuck in my head.) And I loved watching Gentefied on Netflix, so bear with me while I wave my hands around and try to string words into coherent sentences.
My husband actually watched the first couple of episodes of Gentefied before I had the chance. And he was scandalized (SCANDALIZED!) that I hadn’t started it yet. “It’s bilingual!” he would shout at me randomly throughout the day. “Bilingual!!” And he was right, not just about it being bilingual (which it is), but about it being so, so good.
The show opens with the song “Intratable” by Santi Mostaffa playing as a guy pedals his bike. He wears sneakers, white calf-height socks, long khaki shorts, a baseball cap, a gold chain, and dark wraparound sunglasses. He pulls up next to a woman emptying the book return bin from the library, looks around furtively and reaches into his backpack. Just as his hand comes out, the music cuts and we see he’s holding a book. “You got a copy of The Five Love Languages in yet?” he asks. When the librarian shakes her head he clicks his tongue and says, “Shit! Alright. I’ll be back.”
I mean, you guys, you’re kind of hooked already right? I don’t have to try more to make the thoughts into words into sentences, right? You’ve already left to watch it, right? Just in case you haven’t (though you should have) I’ll keep going. The scene switches to an upscale kitchen where men are carefully garnishing things with parsley and making squiggly lines (a technical term) out of sauces. In rapid-fire Spanish one of the men explains to another that a four-top table of VIPs has been seated he needs to get the food together before the asshole boss arrives. It’s clear the guy he’s speaking to is hanging on by a thread to understand, and, when the first guy finishes speaking he says, “That’s shrimp, right?” To which the first man and his coworker stare back incredulously.
In the next scene a young woman and her Afro-Latinx (and Spanish speaking) girlfriend are flirting and kissing in her bedroom when the young woman’s mother calls out in Spanish for her to tell her girlfriend that there’s pan dulce and café. And that all happens before the credits.
So, in the first two minutes, they’ve already addressed stereotyping Latinx men based on their dress, the question of identity and language (especially in the second and third generation), and problems with prejudice toward Afro-Latinxs. But, if you’re thinking, I can’t watch something this heavy while the dumpster fire that is the world burns hotter with each passing day, I will tell you that you’re wrong. Not about the dumpster fire part. That’s sadly pretty true. But this show isn’t heavy. Well, I mean, some parts of it are intense, and the last episode made me sob both from happiness and sadness. But it’s definitely not trauma-porn. It’s funny and touching and complicated.
But wait, she says waving her hands around just as she warned you she would, let’s back up for a second to the title, Gentefied, which comes from the word gentefication. The stars of the show explain it well here, but basically it’s when young people from a Latinx community leave, become professionals, and then return and try to change things to attract more/different business to the community. The intent is good, but the result is often the same as regular old gentrification, which the show also addresses, in that people get displaced and prices go up.
And that’s the story that this show—which is based on a web-series by the same name and created by two Chicano writers—tells through the lives of the three Mexican-American Morales cousins, Erik, Chris, and Ana who, along with their abuelo, Casimiro (Joaquín Cosio), try to find their place in the changing neighborhood of Boyle Heights and work to save their struggling, but much loved, family-owned taquería. Erik (J.J. Soria), who is in love with books, reading, and Lidia Solis (Annie González), lives in Casimiro’s garage, works at the taco shop, and wants nothing more than to take care of his family. Chris (Carlos Santos), who has recently returned from graduate school, is less connected to the Boyle Heights community, and dreams of working in a Michelin star restaurant. Ana (Kerrie Martin), who lives with her younger sister and seamstress mother, dreams of changing the world through her art and being with her activist girlfriend Yessika (Julissa Calderon). Casimiro, or Pop as they call him, is the glue that holds them together. He nurtures and prods and supports and loves unconditionally. He’s also behind on the rent for the taco shop that he and his late wife built together.
Look, my people, I don’t want to give too much away about this show. I want you to be able to watch the stories unfold and the characters grow. I want you to have the joy of hearing Casimiro chuckle when he calls his truck Salma Hayek. I want you to be able to watch the stand alone episode about a mariachi trying to decide between continuing to pursue his dream and finding a job to better support his family. Or the other stand-alone episode about Ana’s mother’s work, her lack of bathroom breaks, and her attempts to find space for herself. I want you to be able to cackle the way I did when someone calls a white developer, among other things, “Vanilla Extract.” Or when someone says, “Mobs of white people are never safe. Nazis, conquistadores, flash dances.” (Which reminds me of an important point that I didn’t think I would need to make: If you, like far too many IMDB reviewers I read, are offended by shows where the cast is not mostly white or where white people are depicted as problematic interlopers, then you should probably find another show to watch and also another site to read.) I want you to be able to share my husband’s excitement (and mine, too) in watching a show that slips from one language to another and back again. I want you to see how it takes you beyond the stereotypes of Latinx culture that are so often depicted, to reveal the beauty and depth of the Latinx community in the United States. I want you to be able to watch and feel and understand as people make choices between themselves and their family and their community, and to see that there is no one right answer, but that there is also joy and friendship and love and vulnerability. Clearly (and I’m flapping my hands here again) my words for this show are not going to be eloquent and I’m probably not the right person to be talking about it anyway, so I’ll leave you with some of Erik’s words instead: “Our gente’s joy deserved to be captured. It’s worth capturing.” And this show is worth you stopping everything to watch.