Spoiler alert: parts of this article reveal some plot developments in the first season.
Earlier this year, I concluded that it was going to be a while for a series to have characters that represented the Latinx individual without focusing on the stereotype surrounding the community. However, the Netflix original series, Gentefied (2020) attempts to bring light to several social issues that have been seen in recent years in L.A.: gentrification, the pressures to accommodate to dominant cultures while keeping their own heritage.
There is a lack of Latinx representation in media, especially when it comes to TV series. I find it strange now more than ever that series that represents this community continue to get canceled. Cristela, Jane the Virgin, and Vida – all have been canceled within the last five years. All of these series had characters that dealt with balancing multiple identities and having their existence be contradicting to American society.
That is why I was so excited to hear that Gentefied is going to have a second season, although there still hasn’t been a date for its second season premiere.
In Gentefied, the complex identities of the character are perfect examples of what Michael Lechuga, Ph.D., calls mestiza consciousness and nomad thought. I read his article in my first graduate class, Perspectives on Communication Theory (COMM 6001), and listened to the live presentation in class.
In his peer-reviewed academic article, he explains that these two concepts are often well-suited for explaining the complex identities of Latinx migrants in the U.S.
A group, or an individual who does not fit inside the box, encouraging bodies to resist white supremacy, not accepting the authority of the state.
Gentefied is one of my favorite TV shows, not just because it brings great witty and humorous dialogs, but also characters that show the double-natured, self-contradictory, but free, nomadic spirits.
What Gentefied accomplishes in 10 episodes is bringing the stories of a community that continues to get pushed away in modern American society, but continuously fight an oppressive system and resiliently coming out. Set in East of Downtown L.A., the series focuses on three Mexican-American cousins, who struggle to chase the American Dream while putting at risk everything precious to them: their neighborhood, their immigrant grandfather and the family’s taco shop. The series soon captured the attention of many, receiving a 91% in Rotten Tomatoes and is even renewed for a second season, two months after its season premiere.
As the series evolved, it became clear that Gentefied was more than just a show meant to entertain. It created a statement, a piece of resistance to bring up social issues. It provided representation to those who are invisible to modern society. As the Vulture review puts it, Gentefied featured characters that represented real people who lived east of downtown Los Angeles. Hardworking immigrants and the descendants of immigrants caught between two worlds.” The creators produced a world where they promised this neighborhood, an epicenter of Mexican-American culture, representation, and realness.
Each character, in their own way, is resisting the Empire. The characters’ actions and ways of living express mestiza consciousness and nomad thought. Two concepts used to go against the dominant ways of thinking. Mestiza consciousness is “an orientation to multiple spaces and multiple possibilities that span time, language, and ideology. While nomad thought questions the forces that move bodies into state subjectivity, not acknowledging the power of the state to enact what a body should be,” Lechuga explains, in his article.
The series Gentefied tackle the struggle of managing multiple identities. Ana Morales, played by Karrie Martin, is one of the three cousins trying to find their place in American society. She is a Chicana, part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and an artist. Ana is constantly trying to balance all her identities but can never seem to be able to make anyone happy while doing so.
During the series, we see Ana having a difficult time pleasing the people she cares for. Her mother is constantly asking her to get a real job and telling her to stop pursuing her passion for art. However, we see Ana building a tolerance for the contradiction – allowing her to express mestiza consciousness through the art she creates.
In the last episode, during the last ten minutes of the series, Ana finds out that those purchasing her art and sponsoring her art show are responsible for gentrifying her neighborhood. It also happened that they purchased her grandfather’s taco shop building. Feeling completely betrayed, she engages in activism by destroying her art, making the statement that her identity will not be used to encourage gentrification.
We can make a connection to Ana’s multiple identities with that of mestizaje consciousness, by looking at the art she creates. In each of her art pieces, she expresses her multiple identities and her connection to her neighborhood. Her family, her Mexican heritage, the taco shop, and the love she has for her girlfriend. With her art that she willingly shares, she is able to make herself vulnerable to foreign ways of seeing and thinking. She surrenders all notions of safety and of the familiar, as the American scholar of Chicana cultural theorist, Gloria Anzaldua, would put it in her book. We specifically see this in her art show. She is not only making herself vulnerable to the foreign ways of seeing and thinking by having White people criticize her work, but she also surrenders all notions of safety with the art pieces. She is actively occupying spaces that are resisting White supremacy, according to Anzaldua.
Although I find that Ana is the embodiment of mestiza consciousness, we can see that Pops is also practicing it. Not only is Pops an immigrant, business owner, but he is a grandfather, occupying multiple spaces of contradiction that resist White supremacy. Alongside Pops representing mestiza consciousness, he also practices nomad thought.
Pops, played by Joaquín Cosío, is the grandfather of the three cousins and the owner of the taco shop in the neighborhood that is currently changing. During the series, we see Pops having a difficult time grasping the changes that are happening in his neighborhood. Unfortunately, while trying to adapt to these new changes, he accidentally contributes to the gentrification of his neighborhood.
Throughout the series, we see how Pops represents the nomad thought concepts by being himself. The dominant culture and dominant discourse on immigration, allude that undocumented immigrants do not contribute to society and that owning anything in America is not an option. By being an undocumented immigrant and owning a business without having “legal” status, he is questioning the dominant culture and discourse on what it means to be successful in America.
Although this is a fictional piece of work, we see these types of connections to communities in the Inland Empire. Much like Ana and Pops representing mestizaje consciousness and nomad thought, there are many Latinx communities in the Inland Empire who involuntarily practice these concepts every day.
Though it is not publicly stated, it is known that there is a plethora of businesses in the Inland Empire owned by immigrants. They are not accepting the power of the government that legislates what a body should be. They contribute to the economy and provide goods to the residents of the area, all while being immigrants of mixed-status. It has layers, each filled with a different identity, embracing them; most importantly, going against dominant thought.
Although there is still not enough representation for people of color, we could take the series Gentefied as a guideline on how the representation of minority groups should look like. It highlights the struggles and issues that the Latinx communities face every day in America while keeping its audience engaged. Although the series does highlight serious issues, it still brings witty remarks and comedic entertainment. This is a series that should definitely be added to your Netflix list.
Note: This article is part of class work in Dr. Mariam Betlemidze’s graduate class on Theoretical Perspectives in Communication Studies.