Gentefied is a show you would have never seen when I was growing up. Centering the Latinx community and exploring themes of gentrification, immigration, gay pride, and assimilation, this Netflix show doesn’t pander to anyone.
Surviving or thriving?
Gentefied combines the words gente, a Spanish word meaning “people,” and “gentrified.” Creators Linda Yvette Chávez and Marvin Lemus boldly deliver a show for the people by the people, following a Mexican family who owns a struggling taquería in an increasingly gentrified neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Pop (Joaquín Cosio) sums up the heart of the show in one line: "La vida no es solo sobrevivir; podemos prosperar.” That’s “life is not about just surviving; we can thrive.” This reminds me of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s The Patriot Act, in which he says, "Our parents' generation is always just trying to survive. They came in the ‘80s and survived for us. But I'm trying to live."
A “real future”?
The pressure children of immigrants undergo is fueled by sacrifice, pain, and hope. This molded my own life—generations of Indian immigrants have laid a blueprint for financial stability and upward mobility: study your butt off, work really hard, and secure a job in the tech or medical field. It was hard to explore or develop my own passions when the only “acceptable” career paths were laid out for me by the age of eight. All the things I was naturally good at and enjoyed doing—writing, playing sports, and making people laugh—were seen as things I needed to drop to focus on a “real future.”
Growing up, I disappointed my parents in various small ways, whether it was failing a test or not being able to gracefully execute Indian classical dancing. With each disappointment, I gained a little more inner strength, to the point where I could make bigger decisions that went against their rules.
One of the most important decisions I ever made was to study abroad. My parents agreed to split the expenses with me, but pulled out at the last minute, believing studying abroad was a bad decision for my future. Devastated, I considered taking out a $15,000 loan to continue with my plans. I ended up signing papers for the loan, and spent a year in Santiago, Chile. To this day it is the decision that brings me the most pride, and the year of my life where I experienced the purest form of happiness. I gained my favorite skill—fluency in Spanish—and formed some of my dearest friendships. The amount of growth, adventure, and bliss I experienced in that one year will last me a lifetime.
After years of fighting with my parents, their voices were still always in the back of my mind, and their views of an “acceptable career” were debilitating. Figuring out my own dreams by getting out of survival-mode mentality took decades. For years, it never occurred to me to pursue art—that was too far-fetched to garner any legitimacy in my mind. At 27 years old, I was lucky enough to stumble upon my true passion, comedy, and haven’t looked back.
My favorite episode of Gentefied was directed by America Ferrera and follows Chris Morales (Carlos Santos) working in a fancy restaurant, mostly staffed by Mexicans who don’t view Chris as a “real Mexican.” This prompts Chris to demand a “Mexican test” quizzing him on Mexican culture. Ultimately, Chris declares “My name is Christopher Ernesto Morales. I am from Boyle Heights and I am 100 percent Mexican.”
I relate to Chris’s ownership of both sides of his culture. I don’t pick sides or check everyone’s boxes; my identity is layered and complex. In the past, I’ve been frustrated that I couldn’t just blend in. When I walk down the street in the United States, people might have a lot of different assumptions about me. When I walk down the street in India, the same thing is true, and I’m seen as an outsider. By going against the norm, I used to feel like I failed my own “Indian test.” It hurts when someone says I’m not really Indian or I’m not really American. Finding value in the intricacies of my identity and seeing this as a blessing took time. I wish others would catch up.
My American dream
Gentefied manages to capture the duality of the immigrant experience. For too long, marginalized communities had to turn on their television and watch stories told and executed through the lens of white culture. I am grateful that in 2020, I can watch television with brown faces, hear bilingual dialogue, and see characters tackle issues that I felt alone in for so long. Directed, written, produced by and starring Latinx artists, Gentefied admirably moves the needle forward.
My parents sacrificed a great deal to give my sister and me a shot at the “American Dream.” All they want for me is to have enough money to enjoy life. It’s hard to make my parents understand that I didn’t sidestep becoming a doctor because I’m lazy or don’t care about my future. I deeply appreciate the hardship my parents endured for me, but I’m not here to make the safe choice. Their sacrifices awarded me the privilege of an option to break the mold. If I fall on my face, I fall on my face. That’s my American Dream.