When lockdown first started, I made a pact with a friend to do yoga and Duolingo every day. She kept up with the yoga, and I’m currently pushing 400 days on my Duolingo streak. Last summer I watched Narcos: Mexico to brush up on my conversational Spanish (that was a mistake). This year, I’ve been binging Gentefied on Netflix.
By “binging” I mean “watched the entire first season in one sitting” which was easy to do considering that there are ten, half hour episodes. The show opens on the Morales family, headed by Pop (Joaquín Cosío) who is taking care of his three grandchildren, cousins Erik (Joseph Julian Soria) Chris (Carlos Santos) and Ana (Karrie Martin). While the premise is that the Morales Family Taco Shop is in danger of being shut down because of gentrification, it is merely the plot glue that holds the season together. In between the backstory there are intricate storylines for each family member. Pops, who still mourns the loss of his wife, wrestles with himself when he begins to be interested in another woman. Erik’s lifelong girlfriend is pregnant and he struggles to prove himself to her as a good father and partner. Chris is returning home, struggling to find acceptance and balance his love for family with his career goals. Ava battles with herself as her art gets discovered by the same people that are running her community out of their homes.
Like many of you, I’ve spent this last year attempting to educate myself on all of the cultures and issues that white supremacy would have me ignore. I’ve read, I’ve watched, I’ve listened. And the one thing that keeps popping up is that a lot of non-white stories are very trauma centered. Shows like “When They See Us” are incredibly important, but when we only focus on the traumatic stories it is easy to become lost in a wash of injustices and not see the vibrant individuals and their joy, mainstream media often focuses on their sadness. It’s as if the only way that white guilt can be satiated is by a call to become a white savior.
When Ana “gets discovered” and begins making real money as an artist, she discovers that Tim (TJ Thyne) is playing white savior to her while buying up buildings in her neighborhood and raising the rent on her neighbors to push them out of their homes and businesses. He treats her as a novelty, introducing her to his friends as “Ana, she’s amazing, when I discovered her she was a bartender, facepainting on the side. She’s a lesbian, struggling for acceptance in her conservative community, her mother works in a sweatshop!” He hones in on everything that makes her tragic so that he can tell himself that he rescued her, and then he tries to turn her into a novelty that he can market.
Therein lies the most compelling dichotomy in the show – Ana is living her dream, one that she never thought would truly be possible. When she realizes that her rise to stardom is coming at the expense of her neighborhood, she must question what is right. The same thing arises from the taco shop – the Morales family attempts to change the shop so that it can fit in with the gentrifying neighborhood, but in doing so they are participating in the disease that is killing their community. So do people throw themselves on the sword of their principles and risk their livelihoods, or do they adapt at the expense of their community?
In America, we are taught about “the melting pot” in school. We’re told that America is a place where all cultures can come together and create something beautiful. For most of my life, I’ve been under the impression that everyone who came to America came together to create a great stew, with different and complex flavors – all of them complimenting each other. What I’ve realized, though, is that when “the melting pot” is mentioned, the underlying expectation is that everyone will come to be boiled down to their simplest stereotype, and then chucked out into society with “best of luck” stamped on their homogenized blocks. By displaying the triumphs of these characters, as well as their tribulations, this show inspires all of us to wonder what we erase with “progress”. Gentefied does not provide the viewers with an easy answer, it inspires us all to have the necessary conversations to come up with a solution ourselves.
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