Warning: This story may contain spoilers
“Gentefied” co-creator Marvin Lemus is on his own journey of identity just like the characters on his series. Both he and co-creator Linda Yvette Chavez are Chicano/Mexican American, but there is another part of his identity he’s been exploring. “Mexican Guatemalan American,” he adds on a joint video call with HuffPost. “I always forget.”
Without missing a beat, Chavez — who, like Lemus, serves as showrunner and executive producer on the Netflix dramedy that centers a Mexican American family in the gentrifying Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles — jokingly says, “It’s like a child he forgets about.”
Lemus isn’t kidding, but he has just recently started to discover this side of him. “The real is, it’s on my dad’s side,” he explains. “I didn’t grow up around my dad. It was late that I arrived at the party. It was Guatemala that I visited my first foreign country. I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t Mexico.’”
It’s these kinds of lighthearted yet earnest reflections on Latinx families and cultures that have been at the heart of “Gentefied,” which humanizes issues like immigration, colorism and gentrification primarily through the perspectives of three cousins in the fictional Morales family.
There’s Ana (Karrie Martin), a painter determined to preserve the essence of her neighborhood through her art; Erik (J.J. Soria), a new dad who worked the counter at Mama Fina’s, the family’s taco restaurant that becomes a casualty of gentrification; and Chris (Carlos Santos), a chef who grew up in Idaho and first moved to Boyle Heights to work at an upscale restaurant.
Lemus believes that the show boils down to identity. He sees it as the struggle for belonging in a changing neighborhood. It has also shaped their identities. “Where do we belong?” he asked.
Chavez and Lemus now take a deeper look at the implications of this for each cousin and extended loved one. New challenges in their personal, professional, and romantic lives will shape their character. They also do everything they can to help their cherished grandfather, Pop (Joaquín Cosio), who is undocumented and detained.
“They were going to have to grow up a little bit,” Chavez added. “Letting them have that experience was a big thing for us.”
In this HuffPost interview, Chavez and Lemus discuss creating “The Mexican Kennedys” moment this season, how their own experiences helped them “zoom in on the characters” even more, and the battles they fought to make Season 2 of “Gentrified” even better than the first.
This season of “Gentefied” touches on what you’ve shared, Marvin: the complexity of fatherhood and identity. Pop, Erik and Chris always shared an intriguing dynamic. Now, Chris’s biological father, Ernesto [Manuel Uriza]This complicates matters even more when he reappears. Was that the story?
Marvin Lemus Ernesto was the obvious choice with Pops at the detention centre. Clearly, Chris’s dad has got some money. We were like, “He’s going to fly in. He must be present in some way. He’s going to be trying to save the day.” Then I think from there, we organically just started to get into, What about Ana’s dad? What about Erik’s dad? Is it possible to bring those threads back?
I think when it comes to that question at the center of the story — Where do we belong? — and how different each of the cousins are in terms of their journey right now, all of their identities have been challenged. They’re all trying to figure out, “OK, what does this look like now as I’m getting older, as I’m moving through a new phase of my life?” Having to go back to where you came from is, I think, a big part of figuring out how you’re going to move forward.
Linda Yvette Chavez The season was one of the fathers. Pop was detained and not in limbo about his immigration status, which led to a number of issues for daddy. This is their patriarch who’s been the center of their world for so long. I don’t know what it was like for you, but for me growing up, a father that stayed in the family or didn’t do something crazy was a rarity. One of my fathers was a man who stayed with me. He was not always perfect, and I loved him dearly. We often experience very fractured relationships between our fathers in communities of color.
We want to show that fracturing — and for Ernesto, in particular. Because he felt embarrassed by his roots, he ran from them. It is easy to see why Chris behaves the way that he does. The Thanksgiving episode shows you a lot of his reality with his dad. It’s one thing to be the child who’s dealing with a parent who’s undocumented, it’s another thing to be the grandchild who’s dealing with that. This is what we wanted to see in our family.
Do you ever feel under pressure to win the second or third season?
LYC You know what — the pressure came from ourselves [Laughs]. Because we’re children of immigrants and hella perfectionists, everything has to be the very best of the best. It was an incredible first season. But it’s your first ride at the rodeo. What do white folks think?
Do you agree?
MLThis is true white-ism.
LYCIt was easy to just get lost in the stories, even though we were finishing a longer, more serious season. Pop was arrested. You’re not going to come out of that bouncing off the walls with jokes and laughing. This was going to be a season in which our characters had to grow.
And I think another piece of the — I wouldn’t call pressure — but [was]The responsibility towards the community. We both came from mixed-status or immigrant backgrounds. It’s such a big part of the narrative in our communities. We wanted to really honor that narrative because we have Pop, who’s undocumented, in the season going on this legal battle, being in this limbo. We felt the responsibility to tell a piece of that story that we haven’t seen before. How is this experience? We didn’t want to spend time in the detention center because we’ve seen that. We don’t want to do the trauma part. Our communities don’t really want to see that.
This is so true.
LYC We want to see what is the toll on a family that’s being separated or potentially separated. The good news is that life continues. There are Thanksgiving and Halloween. Then, you have this thing looming overhead that you don’t even realize is taking such a toll on you until the relief comes. That’s something that you see at the very end of the season.
Pop walking out of the courthouse, and everyone coming together to hug him is one of my favourite scenes. It’s hard to remember who held out her hand for Melinna. [Melinna Bobadilla]She is the lawyer and takes her into the office. It’s just something that we feel and see in our community all the time. How do we tell a story that’s empowering about a person who is an immigrant, who’s undocumented? How do we give him and his family dignity in a way we haven’t seen before?
A beautiful scene is also the final beach scene. Chris and Pop are in a deep relationship and have a heart to heart. The scene is then intercut with Lidia confronting Erik about the challenges they face with their baby. Was that sequence inspired?
MLThe beach was one of the things we fought so hard for. We were able to see a Chicano family at the beach. In the scripts, that moment when Pop and Ernesto are walking back towards the family and they’re all playing football on the beach, we called it “The Mexican Kennedys.” Latinos, we’d be at that beach fucking all day, from sunrise to sundown with the grill. And I said, “We never get to see ourselves in cinema in that way.”
I think this beautiful Chicano family just enjoying that for themselves — and to see it on Christmas just felt like such a California thing to do. We felt it was essential to do this. Lin and me put our feet down. We were like, “It’s happening on the beach, guys. You have to see it happen. You’ve got to figure this out.” We ended up shooting it at Dockweiler Beach, literally right underneath LAX having fucking planes flying overhead every five minutes.
It wasn’t the best for the intimate dialog scenes at the beach as the waves came in. But it worked out. When we first watched those cuts, we were just like, “Holy shit.” It’s just such an emotional thing to see, such an indie cinema thing to see a character contemplating on the beach. I’m just like: “Why not Pop?” Just that little subversive move of being able to implant an immigrant character into that same storyline. A ranchero stands on the beach trying to understand. Where am I going? What’s next?
ML It’s that American cinema aesthetic. It’s also that French new wave. It’s that old-school shit. Just want to be able to witness this ranchero family man standing at the beach with their children. It’s a moment of joy. It’s a moment of sadness. It’s a moment of bitter sweetness. It’s those little details that can easily be like, “Let’s just put this on in the park somewhere in Boyle Heights. Let’s do it in the backyard.”
We fight for that stuff because it means so much to be able to see this image, to put ourselves places where, typically — because of budget, because of schedule — we don’t get to have that privilege. For a lot of folks, if you’re not in it and if you see yourself constantly, you don’t understand how important and powerful that imagery can be.
Absolutely. I’m so glad that you guys did fight for that.
LYCIt was an episode I also wrote. Marvin understands how deeply I am in love with this episode. I feel like it’s really special and poetic. It’s being in the emotions with them and living this experience. It’s also that idea of limbo that we were talking about. I felt like [it was] the quintessential way to really communicate that feeling we’ve experienced the whole season.
That’s also true about some romantic relationships this seasonThis is: Sarai and Lupe [Ivana Rojas]Chris as well Lidia und Erik. Ana makes the decision to choose herself for this season. She didn’t know that she would never get back to Yessika. [Julissa Calderon]Which?
LYC Marvin, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we ever fully knew. I think we always imagined that she’d go back and forth. The future is uncertain. For this season, I believe that we felt as if the couple fell in love very early on. All of us know that love can come and go from our lives, for many reasons. There’s growth within that time frame. Sometimes, love can be seasonal. The two of them were together at some very crucial moments in their lives. In Episode 5, the Halloween episode — Ana seeing the two of them as little girls — you understand what significance Yessika had in her life in terms of being there when her father passed away, and the way they supported each other. Ana was with Yessika from the East Coast when Yessika moved here.
All of us, ultimately, are all on a journey to discover who we really are. For Ana, it’s trying to figure out her art and her dreams, how important they are to her. We wanted her to appreciate Yessika’s contributions in her life.
That’s why we had a lot of moments of her expressing her gratitude towards the end, and understanding that there is no Ana without what Yessika brought into her life, which is true for so many of us and the people in our lives. Sometimes we can have ups and downs with them, but at the end of the day, we’re all crafting each other. We’re all a part of each other’s journey. They would each go on their own paths to personal growth, which I believe makes sense. Yessika can also grow up as she pleases.
ML There’s something that Pop says that I remember putting in when they’re saying goodbye to the shop: ”Just because it ended, doesn’t mean it was a failure.” I remember that was relationship advice I got at one point that just always stuck with me. I was like, “It makes sense in the shop.” It’s just like another piece of the family, or this thing that you can feel is ending and it feels like you fucked up and you didn’t get to make it go all the way.
I think that’s the same thing going on with Yessika and Ana. This theme seems to be a constant. It’s such an interesting place to get these characters, especially when you’re young and in love. We’re taught the Disney form of love, which is happily ever after. That’s just not real.
[Linda and I] always end up getting into this conversation of — for Chicana women, for First Gen women—there’s the ideals [placed on]Sometimes it’s difficult to have a loving relationship. I think it’s just the old-school way of thinking. That trend is something we try to change. It was a back-and-forth battle to determine if they were going to be together.
How have showrunners and directors tried to ensure that the Latinx community is safe?
ML Even from the beginning, it’s something that’s so important to us because we’ve been on the other side of it so damn long. Mentorship is very important for us. Being able to grow and learn from it is essential. We can’t be more positive as we work through these things. Casting is my first thought. The question “Why not?” is one of the things I try to keep at my forefront. We wrote this role for a man, but we didn’t write it for a woman, or trans actor. They could be Black They could be Asian. Is that what this brings to the job? Are we willing to accept all possible outcomes?
It’s great being able to have a partnership where we’re able to check each other, and be like, “Could we be bumping into bias here? Do you know of another? [way]We could all be. [make] this stronger, better — that we could be more inclusive?” We have this tiny slice of power on our show now. We’ve had the folks that have done it for us that are holding the door open and constantly being like, “Yo, we’ve all got to get in.” I think we’ve been lucky to have folks that have modeled it for us — like Lena Waithe, Justin Simien, Gloria Calderon-Kellett and Tanya [Saracho]. To constantly stay conscious of, “Yo, we have the utmost responsibility here because if it’s not us, who the fuck else is going to do it?”
LYCYes. It’s really, for us, from top to bottom, behind the camera and in front of the camera. Our efforts are so intense to make sure that people with different backgrounds can be hired for various roles. I think people don’t realize the amount of real battles and work that goes into trying to get someone with few credits through the door to do something like directing or [being] a department head.
We’re working within a system that’s really outdated and fucked up because there’s so many people who can be in these roles. Union fees, and other barriers to entry create a barrier. We’ve learned so much and there’s so much that’s systemic. Every win is so important. But Marvin and I tend to be those people who will fight real hard for things and we’ll hold our ground. Because I think we feel like we don’t have anything else to lose, at the end of the day. We are looking to open doors for others.