Netflix’s Gentefied: The Good, The Aight, The Breakout Star.
The word gente in Spanish means people, fied is a suffix used to describe the enhanced measure of the root word. For instance, just like the word, beautified means to add beauty to something, Gentefied, in my opinion, is when you sprinkle gente (people of a Latinx persuasion) onto/into a space resulting in a transformed space, much different than what had existed before. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who controls the narrative.
In the case of the new series Gentefied, created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, there’s more good than bad here. The 10-episode series takes place in Boyle Heights, California, a place that has been on the come up for several years or as it’s more aptly known to many, gentrification. As a native New Yorker, I was curious as to the history of this neighborhood and searched on Wikipedia to find a trimmed down answer. The district got its name from its founder; an Irishman named, Andrew Boyle who bought 20+ acres after fighting in the Mexican-American war. The community, during the 1920s and 1960s, was diverse, but redlining forced out a lot of the non-Latinos, and the Chicanos and Mexicanos made the neighborhood their own. But of course, everything in time changes again, and just as we saw in the web-series, East Willy B, a Youtube series that attempted to tackle the issue of gentrification in Williamsburg, Brooklyn but failed, Gentefied succeeds in showing us what happens when hipsters start occupying brown spaces.
For me, this series was more about assimilation and the bi-cultural Latinx experience between generations. Change is happening. Yes, the hipsters are moving into Boyle Heights. But the struggle to remain authentically Mexican or Latino is not a result of gentrification. It’s a result of biculturalism. The younger generation are having to respectfully find a way to change up the old patterns and personal beliefs of the neighborhood Campesinos and their need to hang onto a version of the culture they feel most comfortable living in. It’s a fight between OG Latinos vs. Latinx 2.0 and I’ve seen this before.
The ethnic eatery is forced to come up with a survival plan because rents are rising and the neighborhood is changing. We’ve seen this too. Many times. In Latinx stories. If it isn’t an eatery, it’s a bodega. I know that food is a big part of Latinx culture, but I almost checked out of the series because I knew where it was going to go. But I hung on mainly because of the brilliance of comedian Carlos Santos, but I’ll get back to that later.
Mostly all the white folks in this series look uber clueless. Not all whites are THAT clueless. We know this and yet I guess dumb white is easier to write than a layered and complicated woke white person who needs to be challenged on his/her white privilege. Speaking of white privilege, where are all the black folks in Boyle Heights? Are there any? I did appreciate the one main Afro-Latina Lesbian character, played beautifully by Julissa Calderon but darn how I was hoping for more varied representation in terms of color.
Somewhere mid-season there’s a shift in the main focus of the story. Rather than centering mostly around the problems of the eatery, the writers focused on the lives and struggles of the folks who live in the neighborhood. Although the stories of the immigrant experience were handled with cariño and humor, it left me feeling as though there were two different series at play here: One with a strong narrative focus and the other more anthological than narrative. Although these individual stories were beautiful, who are they for? Latinxs already know how beautiful Latinx people are. Seems like Latinx writers keep preaching to the choir and seeking validation from the same people who are kicking them out of their neighborhood?
Let’s talk about the gente in Gentefied. The story centers around Casimiro Morales, played by Joaquin Cosio who owns a Taqueria in the gentrified area of Boyle Heights. Before the gentrification, we get the sense that these folks got by just fine. Even if they weren’t rich, they had everything they needed in the community. Once the hipsters start moving in, anxiety sets in as the rental rates keep rising but the fare and the prices at the eatery remain the same. Casimiro’s staff consists of his grandchildren, Erik, played by Joseph Julian Soria, Ana, played by Karrie Martin and OMG, the breakout star of this series, I can’t get enough of this boricua, Carlos Santos, who plays Chris, the chef, who has to defend his sophisticated palette, the coconut of the family who doesn’t speak Spanish or isn’t quite as Mexican as most of his family thinks he should be. Santos brings the comic relief in boatloads. He owned Episode 3 and every scene he’s in. When they dragged that man out of the restaurant as he attempted the Mexican wail, he failed at just a few moments before, I died — one of the funniest episodes of the entire season and all due to Santos’s incredible comedic timing. Nothing makes me happier than to see Latinx talent finally get their moment. The rest of the cast is beautiful and talented and incredible. Jaime Alvarez, who plays the Mariachi player, who struggles with the decision to move to Bakersfield to give his son more opportunities, delivers a funny and heartfelt performance. There are so many beautiful moments here worth the watch.
I ain’t gonna lie, Gentefied is not super intellectual and it’s not perfectly structured, but it is engaging, endearing, and entertaining. One of the most impressive things for me is the use of language and how it leads to more authenticity in the characters. I love how specific characters speak Spanish and some of the younger characters speak both or only English. I also picked up on the AAVE influences in some characters, like those played by Julissa Calderon and Annie Gonzalez. Based on my observations of these characters, the more progressive the Latinx character, the higher the tendency to sprinkle their language with AAVE influences or, in the case of Chris, the coconut, who used a more standardized version of English. I’m still on the fence about those choices, but it’s interesting to see that played out among the characters.
No matter what questions I’m left with, Gentified deserves a second season at the very least. And Carlos Santos deserves a standing ovation for his brilliant comedic performance!
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Linda Nieves-Powell is a professional writer and a member of the Writers Guild East. Her novel “FreeStyle” is published by Simon and Schuster, her short story, “The Fly Ass Puerto-Rican Girl from the Stapleton Projects” is published by Akashic Books. Linda was commissioned by Proctor and Gamble to write the “Nueva Latina” monologues, a stage play for Orgullosa, the company’s social media brand. Her award-winning play, “Yo Soy Latina” has performed at over 400 colleges in the U.S, off-Broadway, and at the Tony-award winning regional theater company Crossroads. Her full-length screenplay “Six of Me”, was a semi-finalist at the 2013 Sundance Screenwriting Lab. Linda has studied TV Writing with Alan Kingsman. She is an ENL teacher in Queens, NY.