2020 brings Latinx representation onto the screen

Carol Rodriguez, Staff Writer

All of the shows mentioned can be found on streaming services such as Disney+ and Netflix. Although One Day at a Time initially belonged to Netflix, its fourth season is now airing on POPTV.

The United States, along with the rest of the world, is currently in a time of uncertainty. The U.S. has become the number one country in having the most COVID-19 cases. But to help prevent the increase in cases, many governors akin to Gavin Newsom (CA) and Andrew Cuomo (NY) have enacted stay-at-home orders.

In order to ensure you won’t become bored while you stay indoors, here are three entertaining shows that made me feel proud to be Latina. All you need is Netflix, Disney+, and a couple of tissues. 

Gentefied — Out of the three, I connected with this series the most, especially since it revolves around a Mexican-American family. Three cousins are trying to fit into a world where you either get gentrified or be the gentrifier that gentrifies other people’s businesses and neighborhoods. The title of the Netflix Original caught my attention since it’s a play on words. Instead of naming it gentrification, it’s gentefication (gente meaning people) which is the gentrification of Latinx neighborhoods by Latinx people. 

Gentefication is mainly seen with Chris Morales (Carlos Santos), whom I heavily relate to. Like Chris, I feel like I have to prove my identity. This identity crisis leads me to ask myself “What if I’m not Mexican enough?” or “Am I a ‘bad’ Mexican for not knowing enough about the music?” Even if I was more familiar with Mexican music, that’s still not enough since I still have to be an expert with Mexican food and celebrities, etc. It’s a never-ending, exhausting cycle that makes me question where I belong. Chris, however, along with the entire show’s writing, makes me feel seen which is why Genetefied matters and deserves a season renewal.

Pop’s (Joaquín Cosío) taco shop, Mama Fina’s (as in Delfina, Pop’s wife who recently passed away) is in danger. They can hardly afford next month’s rent, which they usually don’t pay in full, and are close to facing eviction. In order to save it, Chris sparks up new ideas to “modify,” or “gentify” the shop. Aside from facing backlash from his own cousin Erik (Joseph Julian Soria), the local consumers aren’t happy with the new changes. They don’t want new or whitewashed food. They want what tastes like the heart of their country. On the other hand, the new white customers love the new food. They’re pleased with how modernized everything looks, especially since it will look cute on their Instagram pages. 

The Morales family is conflicted; they’re torn between pleasing their new customers, the ones who will bring in the money, or the regulars, who love the shop for what it originally was. Gentefication reveals that gentrification can serve as a survival tactic at some point, especially since the process is used for one’s own benefit. Pops, Chris, and Erik have to save the shop and the only way is to please the richer folk. They raise the food prices, give the dishes trendy names, and overall take away the Mexican from it. Since when do real tacos have shredded cheese and lettuce?

Although we get to see the Morales family benefit from the system, not everyone is on board with it. Ana Morales (Karrie Martin), the artist who’s trying to prove to her Mexican mother that her job is stable, encounters a gentrifier, Tim. He’s a wealthy gay man who offers Ana a thick check to paint a mural. Ana, of course, is excited since this means that her family won’t have that hard of a time with money anymore, but her girlfriend, Yessika (Julissa Calderon), sees right through Tim. Although she supports Ana with everything she does, she disapproves of Tim ruining Boyle Heights with his gentrification. Tim, who’s a colonizer according to Yessika, buys property in order to “beautify it.”

Tim asks Ana to paint a mural on the neighborhood’s corner store (without permission from Ophelia, the owner) where she decides to depict “brown love,” two luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) kissing. Ana’s mural, however, gets a bad reaction from Ophelia along with the public, and we get to hear homophobic remarks from older Mexican men and women. 

Ana, like the rest of the Morales family, is torn. What’s worse — following the neighborhood colonizer or her own people? On one hand, if she continues to paint it for Tim then she supports the gentrification that’s ruining the lives of her family and the people she grew up with. But if she doesn’t paint the mural, then she accepts homophobia in Boyle Heights. 

We later see Tim fulfill Ana’s dreams of having an art show at the end of the season. Throughout the show, Tim has given Ana opportunities that let her prove to herself and her mom that she can make it as an artist. However, at the showcase, Tim introduces her to one of his friends who wants Ana to paint a mural on a place she recently bought. However, there’s just one big problem: it’s Mama Fina’s. 

It all hits. Ana is just a token Latina to Tim, which causes her to spray paint “Raza (the people) not for sale” all over a portrait of herself, which leads to the (prominently white) audience clapping which serves to show that they don’t really know the meaning of gentrification at all.

Gentrification hurts, it ruins lives — not rich, white lives — but poor POC lives. It displaces thousands of people into prosperous white neighborhoods and kicks them out of their homes and even businesses. 

The series really hits the nail at giving insight on how Latinx lives are affected by the white ones. It succeeds in telling our story accurately. Yes, casting Latinx people on a show is great, but now what? There’s merely any representation there. Viewers want to connect with the character and see themselves within them. That’s true representation and fortunately, Gentefied gets the job done. 

Diary of a Future President — Created by Ilana Peña, Diary of a Future President revolves around a 12-year-old Cuban-American girl, Elena Cañero-Reed (Tess Romero), and her family with a theme song that’s beautifully remindful of One Day at a Time’s.

The Disney+ show captures Elena encompassing the true hardships of middle school and being a preteen, such as awkwardly getting your first period or having a terrible fallout with one of your best friends. It’s surprising and amazing to see that Disney is incorporating more relatable and important topics into their shows.

While Gina Rodriguez does portray President Elena, don’t get your hopes up of seeing her on the screen often. Besides producing the ten episode show, Rodriguez is only a guest star. She’s seen at the beginning and final shots of the season, when she receives her diary from her mother.

Elena’s mother, Gabi (Orange is the New Black star Selenis Leyva), sends it to her as a way to help Elena on her first day in office and remind her of the journey she went through to get to that point. Elena started from the bottom of her school — literally the bottom — to the top of the country. During her catastrophic times at school, she would go under the cafeteria table to call her mom in need of advice yet she’s now the leader of the country.

Elena’s sixth grade experience is a “jungle” that brings her learning experiences pertaining to the importance of family and friends. Throughout the show, Elena’s best friend Sasha (Carmina Garay) is always there for her, even if it means accompanying her to throw orange juice on the school’s mascot. But Elena, who’s too focused on impressing her crush, fails to reciprocate her loyalty when Sasha needs it most. 

Due to Elena’s absence, Jessica (Harmeet K. Pandey) turns out to be the one who attends the poetry competition at the mall to support Sasha and her poem. Jessica manages to calm down Sasha’s nerves which surprises us all since Jessica left her friendship with Sasha and Elena for a cooler and less nerdy friend named Melissa (Sanai Victoria). However, after the poetry competition, Sasha and Jessica begin to rekindle their friendship and hang out in secret.

Although having trouble with one of your best friends is a typical Disney Channel storyline, Peña touches upon hard hitting subjects, such as having shame towards your heritage like Bobby (Charlie Bushnell), Elena’s eighth grade brother and the most “chill” guy you will meet, who was ashamed of his last name. During a tennis match, his opponent calls Bobby a “worm” due to the ‘ñ’ displayed on his team jacket. This causes him to rip out the ‘ñ’ to make it Canero instead of Cañero. His opponent’s ignorant remarks make him lose focus on the game, but when he sees his teammates in solidarity by putting a tilde on each of their jackets, he ends up with a victory. 

Identity crises are sprinkled throughout the show, not only with Bobby and his last name or Elena’s struggle with finding her “raisin,” or reason for being, but also with Bobby developing a crush on his teammate, Liam (Brandon Severs), while dating his girlfriend, “Monyca with a y”. Sever’s face isn’t new to Disney at all since he was on Disney Channel’s Walk the Prank starring Jillian Shea Spaeder, Cody Veith and Bryce Geisher. 

Love is not only in the tennis court’s air, but at the law firm’s as well. We get to see Elena’s lawyer mom, Gabi, develop a crush on Sam (Michael Weaver), her goofy coworker at the law firm. Their relationship, despite how cute their love is, is rough. Gabi, like both of her kids, is still dealing with the loss of her husband. Although Sam visibly loves her, she doesn’t want him to be just a replacement.

Poor Sam deals with a lotl h in their relationship, but I admire his loyalty despite their on and off relationship due to Gabi’s unease. Sam continues to always be there for her, even during the weird period of Gabi doing everything she can to ignore him.                                                                                                                                                                                   

He even goes out of his way to prove to Gabi that he deeply cares for her kids, such as when he helps Elena return an accidentally stolen bra from the store her mom forbade her from, or when he resolves Bobby’s problem with Liam.

Diary of a Future President is a heartwarming and inspiring family show that would have been perfect for my hectic middle school days. 

One Day at a Time — This show also revolves around a Cuban-American family. However, unlike the Cañero-Reed’s, this isn’t the first time people have seen the Alvarez family. Viewers have been streaming the show ever since it aired on Netflix beginning in January 2017, which got cancelled in 2019. 

The show’s cancellation sparked an outrage in fans, especially Brooklyn Nine-Nine stars Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz who guest starred in the One Day at a Time season three premiere and Lin-Manuel Mirando who tweeted NBC in hopes of having the network save the show. Manuel seems to be a passionate advocate for reviving cancelled shows, such as when Fox cancelled B-99 after its sixth season and later got picked up by NBC.

Saved by POPTV, One Day at a Time is back for a fourth season and it’s crazier than a chancla beating. Abuela Lydia (Rita Moreno) and her “exclusive, non-sexual, platonic companion” Leslie (Stephen Tobolowsky) return from their Cuba trip, Penelope is now officially a registered practitioner, and Papito has a girlfriend. The new season brings changes, but the heart of the Alvarez family still exists. Elena (Isabella Gomez) is still a woke gay, maybe even more gay than ever, and Lydia still swings her curtain for a dramatic effect.

Love is rekindled this season — Season One viewers loved Penelope (Justina Machado) and Max’s (Ed Quinn) relationship, which ended due to their disagreement on having kids since Penelope didn’t want more kids while Max did. Even though Season Three teased the possibility of them getting back together when they reunited at her ex-husband’s wedding, they ultimately parted their separate ways. 

Since then, Penelope has been juggling trying to find the right man and setting her priorities straight such as becoming a nurse practitioner. Despite her advocance for being a “strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man” — and her kids remind her that too — her longing for a relationship increases. Lupe learns that she can simultaneously and unapolgetically be a feminist and want a boyfriend even though her luck with relationships hasn’t been going that well — or that’s what we think until Lydia ran into Max at the grocery store, which leads to the restart of their relationship.

Meanwhile, Elena and her syd-nificant other (play on words for her non-binary significant other named Syd) refuse to be that high school couple who believes they will last through college so, for preparation, they ignore each other for two days. However, thanks to Abuela’s meddling, she pushes Syd (Sheridan Pierce) to go talk to Elena and they both come to agreement that it’s okay to be those people.

Penelope and Elena’s love lives make Alex (Marcel Ruiz) appreciate how hard, or even annoying, relationships can be but he assures and surprises the family that he and Nora won’t be like that. The reveal of his new girlfriend earns a huge curtain swing from Lydia and the family is left in shock.

Our papito is now growing up and has a girlfriend, Nora. This season has pleasantly been more Alex-centric and it’s wonderful to see the writers giving him more storylines. Last season was a bit tough for Alex since he got grounded after being caught vaping cannabis and he lost his social life. But now that Alex is free from his room, his expanded dating pool leads him to meeting Nora.

Schneider (Todd Grinnell) and Avery (India de Beaufort) are back together despite their break up after Schneider lost his eight year sobriety last season. Schneider, the next door neighbor who never leaves the Alvarez home making him practically familia, and Avery have a baby on the way, which is revealed after Avery threw away her pregnancy test in Alvarez’s trash bin only for Lydia to find it. 

At first, Lydia suspects that it is Penelope’s, but after a confrontation, Lydia and Leslie discover that it doesn’t belong to her which causes the family to panic and conclude that it’s Nora’s pregnancy test. After Penelope gets embarrassingly strict and harsh with Alex and Nora, Latino-parent-style, there’s one person left to confront — virgin (and gay) Mary. Elena obviously denounces the possibility of her being pregnant and now the family is confused as to whose it is. Once Avery and Schneider return from their Halloween costume contest party (lost to Elton John), Avery confides Schneider of her pregnancy and they share a heartfelt moment wrapped in a group hug.

While there’s a lot of love circling around the familia, there’s a lot of real moments shared between them. After Alex runs into Penelope in the middle of a dirty act and Lydia sets up a dating profile for Penelope, a serious conversation about boundaries is needed. Hispanic families have no boundaries and it’s up to Penelope to decide whether she wants to continue that cycle. 

Elena is dealing with the stress of writing college essays for her application to Yale and she might be losing her sanity but nevertheless, “chaos is a part of [her] process.” Meanwhile, Alex has other chaos going on, such as asking Penelope for $500 to take a fashion design course and later dropping it due to not excelling. However, Penelope encourages him to push himself further if he’s really that interested in taking the class.

One Day at a Time is a great show if you want to cry, either by laughing too hard or having a scene hit you right where it hurts. Although they haven’t filmed the rest of the season due to COVID-19, you can watch the Alvarez family one more time on POPTV’s next episode on April 27. 

Latinx representation has come a long way, and it doesn’t just stop with Gentefied, Diary of a Future President and One Day at a Time. One Day at a Time was the first show I’ve seen that’s centered around a hispanic family and since then, I’ve come across so many wonderful gente on the big screen.

Other shows that include Latino experiences are:

  • On My Block
  • The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia
  • Elite
  • Party of Five

Despite 2020 being a trainwreck, the film television industry has succeeded in helping la raza feel included and represented.