Gentefied creators Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez knew from the beginning that they didn’t want their show to feel in any way like “trauma porn.” Their debut season, which landed on Netflix last February, found moments of joy even as the Morales family struggled to save their restaurant in Los Angeles’ rapidly gentrifying Boyle Heights. The season’s closing chapter also presented an interesting challenge for the season to come: What does a more holistic, empathetic version of the stereotypically tragic deportation story actually look like?
Last year we found the entire family scrambling to keep Morales patriarch Casimiro’s restaurant, Mama Fina’s, alive and in the family—a fight that continues into Season 2. But the finale dropped a major bomb when the beloved abuelo failed to show up at the hospital to meet his first great-grandchild. He was pulled over and detained due to an outstanding vandalism fine, and the episode ended with Pops in an ICE van.
As they made plans for their half-hour comedy’s second season, first-gen writers Lemus and Chávez knew they wanted to depict “Pops”’ fight to stay in this country as one of empowerment. “He goes from not wanting to embrace his status publicly and fight for his right to stay, to really understanding that there is no shame in who he is and his life here in this country,” Chávez said. “That he is deserving of his place here.”
The Morales family tree is a little complicated: Mexican actor Joaquín Cosío plays the patriarch Casimiro, aka “Pops,” who acts as a surrogate father to his three sons’ children. There’s Erik (Joseph Julian Soria), whose father is in jail; Ana (Karrie Martin) and her little sister Nayeli (Bianca Melgar), who live with their mother and whose father died; and Chris (Carlos Santos), whose father is very much alive but also something of a family outcast. (He packed up his things and left East Los Angeles to live in Idaho, where Chris grew up; he’s seen as something of a traitor for moving to Middle America.)
Not long before the writers’ room began meeting for Season 2, Lemus received news he’d awaited for most of his life: His mother had gotten her citizenship. It was a huge weight off his shoulders—and a huge inspiration.
“Especially during the Trump years, I was on her ass,” Lemus said. “Like, please Mom, get this all handled and get your citizenship already!”
When the writers convened, they all began to unpack their individual experiences growing up with immigrant parents. They wanted to depict the Morales family in a familiar form of limbo—going about their lives as normal despite the looming possibility that one of their own might not be there tomorrow.
“What is it like?” Lemus said. “Like, we live our lives. We still date. We still have fun. We still crack jokes. We still make all sorts of fun memories—but it’s always there hanging over you.”
“It’s always in the back of your head,” he continued. “That concern, that worry that you’re not fully secure, your family isn’t fully secure. Just because of a stupid paper.”
The anxiety surrounding Pops’ future is the gravitational center of this season, even while his grandchildren go about their lives as normal. As nuanced as Gentefied felt in Season 1, its sophomore season delves into rawer, thornier emotions—and the cultural conditioning that can underlie them.
Perpetual on-and-off-again flames Erik and Lidia welcomed their first daughter, Delfina, last season, and we now find them getting ready for a move to the Bay Area. Lidia went to Stanford University, and has therefore already learned how to code-switch; Erik has not. Over time, Lidia’s short patience for Erik’s struggles reveal aspects of her own personality that she’s been forced to reject and suppress.
Ana and Chris, meanwhile, seem to find their most challenging questions in their work lives. (Although both also have some romantic messes to clean up by season’s end.) Ana must once again decide whether selling her art for an obscene amount of money would also constitute becoming a vendida. Chris is still trying to find his voice as a chef, torn between the Eurocentric influences he’s been taught to revere and the family roots from which he’s always felt a little alienated as the kid who grew up in Idaho.
Chávez pointed out that the questions Ana asks herself often reflect those she and Lemus have encountered during their own journeys as independent filmmakers and digital creators who now run a big streaming show about their community.
“The more you work towards your dreams and this fantasy of the American Dream, the more you get pulled away from your community,” Chávez said. “And especially if you grew up working class, the more you get pulled away from that class status, you can start to wonder if you’re selling out—if you’re selling your community out.”
“A lot of things we experienced, we were like, okay, put it in Ana’s mouth.” she added with a laugh.
Beyond the show’s writing, which uses each character to highlight a different facet of Latinidad and the relationship one can form with it, the cast’s chemistry is also rare. The scenes that find Soria, Martin, and Santos chopping it up as cousins in the backyard are reliably the most recognizable and entertaining—especially in what can only be described as the ultimate sitcom-style nightmare Thanksgiving.
The entertainment industry’s failure to cultivate, fund and recognize projects that center Latin American creators and actors pretty much goes without saying at this point. Too often, any production that centers such talent carries an unfair burden to represent the entire community—an impossible feat that can often flatten the culture into loving shots of food and boisterous trumpet blasts. The genius of Gentefied is its refusal to fall into that trap.
When asked what it was like to be able to work with a group of Latinx writers instead of being the only one in the room, Lemus noted that the environment allowed everyone to explore their experiences a little more deeply—to suss out which experiences were shared and which were not. “Being able to hear the differences between our stories, I think, is... just as important as having to do one story that is going to have to represent everybody,” he said.
One particularly refreshing addition this season? Ana’s high school sweetheart Yessika finally gets to have some fun. After spending most of last season fighting with Ana and generally being forced into the role of “the serious one,” Julissa Calderon finally gets to imbue her character with real, sustained joy in an episode titled “Yessika’s Day Off.” The episode also highlights how Yessika’s experience as an Afro-Latina has differed from Ana’s—a distinction that can all too often be ignored in media that treats the community as a monolith.
“We wanted to be able to tackle that without it becoming so heavy,” Lemus said. “We had an idea of like, okay, we want to definitely see Yessika in her joy because last season we constantly saw her at odds and struggling with Ana and being frustrated with her.”
This time around, Yessika gets the most fun episode of the season—an installment that finds her partying with an old friend, joking around in Ubers, and trying to talk their way into an “exclusive” event. Lemus and Chávez spoke with her experience as they worked on the episode, a conversation that inspired one moment in which viewers get a glimpse of the treatment Yessika faces constantly. In Los Angeles, the actress told them, “Nobody ever thinks I’m Latina. In L.A., nobody ever thinks I speak Spanish.”
This leads to a very awkward conversation in one of the aforementioned Ubers—but we won’t spoil that here. The moment is funny, Lemus pointed out, but also makes clear how one can be othered by their own community.
“At the end of the day, we’re always trying to make something like, ‘What do I want to watch?’” he said. “And how do we show up and represent, create more content and more stories that la gente want to see? How do they want to see themselves?”