In their innovative production, the first-generation co-creators, Linda Yvette Chávez and Marvin Lemus, center the gente in “gentefication” (a play on gentrification). They do this by highlighting the Latinx community’s role and responsibilities in negotiating the racialized economic tensions that arise, even if unintentionally, in the neighborhoods of people of color faced with the capitalist tenets of property ownership, financial investments, and putting profit over people’s long-term sustainability. It’s a mirror for deep reflection. The multiple storylines and complex characters of Gentefied come to life in the historic neighborhood of Boyle Heights, the location of Mama Fina’s restaurant, also referred to as Mama Fina’s taco shop, named after the matriarch Delfina. Her spirit guides the critical negotiations of the Morales family—especially for Casimiro, or “Pop” (Joaquín Cosío)—throughout the ten episodes in season 1 as they navigate the threat of eviction. It becomes vital for the three interwoven cousins, Chris (Carlos Santos), Erik (J. J. Soria), and Ana (Karrie Martin), to creatively and passionately uplift their immigrant abuelo while navigating the shifting neighborhood and their own internal contradictory waters of growth. Gentefied poignantly asks: How can a new generation grow their dreams yet honor the people and legacies that created a space for them to exist and thrive?
Gentefied is a politically smart, comical, and visually stunning TV series that premiered on Netflix this past February . It has been dubbed a “love letter” to the Latinx community, yet its fierce approach to the layered tensions of gentrification in the Eastside neighborhood of Los Angeles has me feeling that Gentefied is also a compelling open letter of intergenerational “community accountability.” 1
“Gentefied poignantly asks: How can a new generation grow their dreams yet honor the people and legacies that created a space for them to exist and thrive?
A major intervention of Gentefied, in addition to the seamless use of Spanish and English, and the thoughtful representation of Latinx experiences beyond those of Mexicans (with the inclusion of Dominican and Salvadoran characters), is truthfully representing consciousness about intergenerational conflict within working-class migrant Latinx families. A striking depiction of this is the clash between Ana, a young queer Chicana feminist who chooses to focus on her artistic work as a career path, and her amá Beatriz (Laura Patalano), who works as a seamstress in sweatshop-like conditions and argues that her daughter should work multiple jobs, spend less time with her activist girlfriend, and hold increased responsibility at home. In a defining moment, when Amá angrily disposes of Ana’s hard-earned paints, Pop—who is struggling to make rent at the taco shop—consoles his granddaughter by offering to buy her more. He supports her dream of being an artist by saying, “¡Somos pinches pobres, pero con un chingo de sueños, chamaca!”2 reflecting his own vulnerability, determination, and struggle for survival.
Meanwhile, Chris, who holds a business degree, aspires to attend culinary school, and is lovingly called Güero (intensifying his feelings of not being “Mexican enough”), creates a controversial tikka masala taco to attract “new” customers and increase earnings. His perspective contrasts with that of his homie/cousin Erik, an avid reader and soon-to-be father who institutes an impromptu books-for-tacos program at Mama Fina’s, where children get a free taco for reading a book, which he argues will attract more families. The first book Erik recommends to a neighborhood boy is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, signaling community roots and revolutionary practices, whereas Chris’s fusion tikka masala taco can be seen as uprooting or colonizing culture. It is quite brave for a Latinx TV series to feature a collaboration of voices and contradictory perspectives across multiple story lines, to show tensions without resolve, all while illuminating key issues of gentefication.
These tensions come to a sort of climax in the episode “Protest Tacos,” which features a “food tour” that outrages community activists due to the invitation of potential gentrifiers into the Boyle Heights neighborhood. With homelessness and displacement abounding, attracting outsiders to the community is rendered a sell-out move by protestors, including Ana’s queer Dominican girlfriend, Yessika (Julissa Calderon). They yell in anger and disbelief, “El barrio se defiende; el barrio no se vende.”3 The turmoil among the gente boils over when Ana learns that the white-appearing financial contributors of her first solo art show are the same gentrifiers who plan to evict her abuelo and have no regard for elders and the well-being of families in her community. In response, she courageously spray-paints in bright red “RAZA NOT FOR SALE!” on the white walls of the gallery.
As we await season two, I’m curious to see how the provocative story lines continue to unfold and how this letter of intergenerational accountability will continue to be written. I wonder if the show will address gentrification as a colonial legacy of dislocation and elimination, particularly when thinking of the original Native people of Southern California, the Tongva, and subsequent histories of people of color being displaced due to economic and racialized tensions. In the meantime, the fact that we can even ask such a question about a Netflix TV series is an indicator of just how unique and significant Gentefied is.
1. Community accountability is a community-based strategy to address various forms of violence. See: INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Color of Violence: the INCITE! Anthology (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2016).
2. “We are poor, but we have big dreams.”
3. “The neighborhood is defended; the neighborhood is not sold.”