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Gentefied, Netflix’s bilingual dramedy that explores love, loss, laughter and the pursuit of the American Dream through the lens of one Latinx community in Los Angeles, is coming back to the streaming service for season two Nov. 10. On Wednesday night, executive producer and director America Ferrera was joined by the cast and showrunners at Gentefied: A Taste of the BLVD — an event at BLVD MRKT, an artisanal food hall in downtown Montebello — to celebrate the show’s next chapter.
The outdoor courtyard was lined with vendors serving everything from pupusas to jambalaya and chicharron-topped tacos. Marigold flowers, which are native to Mexico and are traditionally present on altars set up for Dia de los Muertos, peppered the venue as castmembers and special guests sipped on specialty mezcal cocktails. Gloria Calderon-Kellett, Chris Gorham and Eva Longoria were present, along with several of Gentefied‘s actors (Alejandro Patino, Annie Gonzalez, Bianca Melgar, Carlos Santos, and others), writers, and producers.
“The growth of every character as a whole, it’s such a season of self-actualization. It is a roller coaster of emotions, but I think there’s so much personal growth going on on every level,” said Karrie Martin Lachney, who played Ana Morales, a queer Chicana artist on the show.
While Season one was an introduction to the lives of the Morales Family, season two expands on the universe by exploring deeper folds in the character’s personalities and revealing even more emotional nuance, particularly as the family deals with the uncertainty of not knowing whether Pop will be able to stay within this country’s borders or not.
“Marvin and Linda, our show creators, they didn’t shy away from exploring the issues that matter to them,” Ferrera said Wednesday night. “We’re a comedy but we’ve always been a comedy in real-life situations. That’s how life is! We don’t just sit around in our grief; life keeps happening. You can be grieving and laughing at the same time. And that full humanity and complexity is still new for our community in film and television. Our stories have been told in very one-note, often grim and stereotypical ways that don’t get to show complexity.”
The show, which takes place in Boyle Heights, paints a picture of Los Angeles that goes beyond mainstream representations of the city that tend to glitter in one direction. “People of color, people from marginalized communities, we are so often on the margins of the story. There’s a main character and we exist in their world, and it’s so rare that we exist in our world where we are not the minority, we are not the outsider,” Ferrera said.
The actress was first introduced to Boyle Heights when filming her breakout movie Real Women Have Curves, and having grown up in a predominantly Jewish community in Los Angeles, was thrilled to be immersed in the predominantly Latino neighborhood. “A place like Boyle Heights is a physical manifestation of all the things that we are: the art, the beauty, the conflict, the poverty, the displacement, the struggle, the success, the joy … to be able to make a place like that the environment where these characters get to live and thrive I think intrinsically changes what the story is about and who the story is about,” she said of Gentefied.
The concept of dreaming up and working toward a possible future is a theme that runs through the family’s bloodline and through the show; Ferrera, the first-generation child of Honduran immigrants, feels a kinship with this belief in an American dream that the Mexican American Morales cousins share, but acknowledges that as this country’s inequalities have been allowed to remain intact, “this is an interesting time where a lot of people are questioning what that means, and what that phrase has meant to generations.”
“The truth is, access does not exist for anyone willing to work hard enough. And the real interrogation of that assumption is important and it’s necessary and the way that the show does it is by showing the multigenerational sacrifices,” Ferrera continued. “I don’t know that the show offers any answers so much as a picture of what it means to live with the question.”
The power of seeing a predominantly Latinx East Los Angeles neighborhood on Netflix shows viewers the beauty of culture and art when it’s created — and maintained — by native residents, and not flattened by the repercussions of gentrification, which often result in a bulldozing of a community’s architecture and how it functions.
Since the 2008 recession, Boyle Heights has been a hotspot of gentrification, its proximity to downtown Los Angeles and status as a thriving arts scene making it more of a target. The neighborhood, known for its vibrant Chicano murals, attracted gallerists and high-rise apartment developers looking to rebrand the predominantly working-class community; the locals staged protests in response then, and the fight to maintain the neighborhood’s authenticity continues, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused several small business to shutter more recently.
Julissa Calderon, who plays Afro-Latina activist Yessika Flores, said Wednesday night: “Playing this activist on the show, fighting for the community, I feel like I’m on the forefront of saying, ‘Stop this, this is not OK.’ To me, gentrification is not bad, but what’s bad about gentrification is you are trying to put money into the city but take the people who built the city out. So I feel like the message that we’re trying to give is: We built this, we made this; you could do what you want to uplift this and change the world and put money into it, but we’re here to stay.”
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