In Gentefied, everyone knows the score. That’s the dark joke about being a young color person in the US, where access to information is fairer than the ability to use that information. It is easy to know exactly how you are kept out of opportunities and difficult to do anything about it. For the Mexican family in the heart of Gentefied, the game is clearly rigged and winning it can cost more than it is worth.
Netflix’s new half-hour dramedy by producer America Ferrera and writer / maker duo Linda Yvette Chavez and Marvin Lemus follows a trio of cousins struggling to keep their grandfather’s taco shop in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. This is harder than it has ever been: gentrification is sweeping through the neighborhood, causing the Chicano population to be slowly driven out of the city at a time when it is not easy to get money.
Every cousin has his own dream alongside the family: Ana wants to become an artist and struggles to collect expensive supplies and find a showcase for her work. Erik is torn between the responsibility for running the store and his desire to have his own family. Chris, just back from college, wants to be a chef in Paris, although it means he is suppressing his Mexican origins.
By following the three of them and those in their jobs, Gentefied is both a celebration of a modern Mexican-American family and the story of their struggle against the ever-present threat of erasure. At every moment there is something that wants them to forget who they are. During his studies as a chef, Chris developed an affinity for the culturally high-quality, sterile world of good food. Ana’s desire to find a platform for her art places her at odds with her activist friends. Erik’s pride and machismo jeopardize the profitability of the store and his relationship with Lydia, his estranged, pregnant ex for whom he wants to prove that he is good enough.
Above them are all the invisible guillotines that are dangling over many colored people in America. The ever-present call from the landlord; the racism of employers that must remain unanswered, otherwise you will lose your job; and the environmental threat from ICE officers who don’t care if you are a citizen.
The show sometimes seems to rely on a checklist, the kind that comes into play when there is a story about the slow encroachment of rich white people on communities of color. Many of the same tropics are present, whether it’s a show Gentefied or vida or The Chi for the. There are millennials who all want the same Instagram-friendly food and decor for taco Tuesday, landlords who prefer to rent millennials to top dollars than the already high rates they charge their current tenants of color, and the higher middle class settings that only real people want color when they clear up their act. (Read: be more white.)
Because of this, Gentefied is at its best when it gets specific: a mid-season episode following a mariachi singer visiting the taco shop, another telling the lifelong friendship and romance between Ana and her girlfriend Yessika, or Chris’s constant struggle to prove to his fellow chefs that he is “Mexican enough” and not “coconut” (a term that means he is brown on the outside, white on the inside).
Stories about the children of immigrants often revolve around the fundamental tension of being caught between the culture of their parents’ home country and that of the home where they grew up. Stories like this are as old as immigration itself. In Gentefied, there is the modern ripple of ‘authenticity’, the valid interest in a culture that has been cleared for white consumption and influence on social media without any care for place, for people, for history. It is a constant pressure, easy to admit and fun to participate.
It is also perishable. There will be something else soon. The tastemakers move to a different neighborhood and nobody will take care of the accommodations that were ever made for them. This is the existential threat that the children of immigrants are now facing. Fighting seems impossible, an extra set of obstacles in addition to the regular set of obstacles that you must take to achieve the better life that your parents want for you. Admit it and the only thing left is the exorbitant rent in a hollowed-out neighborhood that your family left long ago, leaving fragments of a culture that you are already starting to forget.