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'Gentefied': A Netflix Series Set East Of Downtown Los Angeles

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"Gentefied" is a show with a hyper-local premise. It focuses on a Latino family in the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of downtown L.A. They own a taqueria.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

CARLOS SANTOS: (As Chris) I'm trying to do my job, but I can't get this mosca out of the kitchen.

KARRIE MARTIN: (As Ana) Did you use a fly swatter?

SANTOS: (As Chris) Good idea. Shoo, fly. Don't bother us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Stop.

CORNISH: "Gentefied" started out as a web series by first-time creators Linda Yvette Chavez and Marvin Lemus, and now this show with intense local flavor is going global on Netflix.

LINDA YVETTE CHAVEZ: Like, every time they drop that number - like, this is going to be in 200 countries dubbed in, like, that many languages - I just - you know, I freeze for a minute because I'm like, oh, wait. Hold on.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Yeah.

CHAVEZ: This is just a little crazy thing that we got together and poured our hearts into. But to know that somewhere in France, someone's going to be listening to it in French, it kind of trips us out.

CORNISH: Linda Yvette Chavez and Marvin Lemus sat down with my co-host Ari Shapiro, and he began by asking how much of the show was inspired by their own experiences.

CHAVEZ: Oh, my God, all of it.

SHAPIRO: All of...

CHAVEZ: Yeah. I mean, like...

MARVIN LEMUS: This is a biographical - autobiographical show. I mean...

CHAVEZ: There's so much. I mean, obviously, there's so much about the community of Boyle Heights and so many community members there that we've met and all that good stuff. But, you know, when it comes to, like, sitting down and, like, putting your mind, your body, your heart, your soul on the page, that's something Marvin and I in our writers room - like, just sitting down and be very vulnerable about what we've experienced in life.

And, like, Marvin and I always joke about how so much of this was us trauma bonding. Just, like, going through our - like, this is the [expletive] we went through with, like, our parents and with our families and our own identity issues - and then taking that and saying, OK, well, that's the show. That's my tio, my tia. This is my grandfather. This is my dad. And who are they and how are they complex and three-dimensional - because we haven't seen that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CHAVEZ: I always talk about how the reason why it's important to put brown bodies behind brown shows in terms of creators or producers is because we're going to write from a place of love versus fear, which - I think a lot of times, the otherness of people is what comes through.

SHAPIRO: So, Marvin, give me an example of a scene that basically was ripped directly from your life.

LEMUS: (Laughter) Well, the first thing I came to was the Mexican test.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

SANTOS: (As Chris) I didn't watch the game, and suddenly, I'm not Mexican?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

LEMUS: There's a - in episode three - Chris is this character who's, like - he's the whitewashed one who's just moved back into his grandfather's home in Boyle Heights. And he has to start going through these Mexican tests because everybody starts challenging him and telling him that he's not Mexican enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

SANTOS: (As Chris, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

LEMUS: We condensed it down into this montage that happens in a day, but for me, it just feels like I've been going through that my entire life. And - you know, and it's something that I think - especially as first-gen, being Mexican American tends to mean never feeling American enough and never feeling Mexican enough.

SHAPIRO: Linda, can you give me an example of a scene from the show that you feel like is your own experience put on the screen?

CHAVEZ: I think for me, I talk a lot about Ana. And, like, she's the youngest cousin out of all of them, but she's the one who does so much emotional labor in the family.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CHAVEZ: She's always trying to get the two male cousins and Grandpa together. And when we were developing that character, I talked to Marvin a lot about being that person in my family who had to always kind of, you know, put my dream aside and show up for my family, almost sometimes to a flaw where it was like, I got to put them first. I got to do that labor. And he always talks about how - Marvin does about how, you know, a lot of times, the women in our communities are the ones who have to handle that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GENTEFIED")

MARTIN: (As Ana) You know, that man has enough to deal with without you two regressing to your 12-year-old beef. You stop acting like a spoiled brat, and you get over your bruised ego. Now fist-bump and make up.

CHAVEZ: If I was a guy, I didn't have to do [expletive] like that. You know, I would...

LEMUS: Linda, stop cussing.

CHAVEZ: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

SHAPIRO: We'll bleep that.

CHAVEZ: Oh, my bad. I'm a big cusser (ph) - my bad.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAVEZ: No, but, like, me being - yeah. So, you know, Marvin was like, I don't have to do any of that, but for a lot of the women in our culture, it tends to be that we have to put ourselves aside so that our families can be OK.

SHAPIRO: When you see the neighborhoods that you grew up in changing and the change is not always coming from white outsiders but from wealthy Latinos who may have even grown up in those neighborhoods, does that change the gentrification dynamic?

LEMUS: It does, and it doesn't. I mean, it's - I think what we always wanted to explore in the show was - we wanted to explore that very complicated gray area of, like, who has the right or the responsibility to being a good neighbor. And, you know, the American culture is very individualistic, and it's about chasing your dreams and - no matter what. And, like, nothing can get in the way. And those are the things that our parents sacrifice everything for. It's a constant reminder and a constant guilt trip of, like, you know - this is why we came here. You're here to live out these dreams that we could have never even possibly imagined for ourselves. And so...

SHAPIRO: But at the same time that you're fulfilling their dreams, are you also kind of, like, betraying your heritage by doing something different?

CHAVEZ: Yeah. I mean, I think that's the thing that's just so personal to Marvin and I. We were dealing with those issues ourselves - like, chasing that dream that our parents wants us to chase. And then as we're accomplishing it, as we're coming into this dream of capitalism, really, how is that dream then displacing and disenfranchising the very people we love and hold dear? How does that make it difficult for them? How does it make it hard for the most vulnerable communities, the undocumented community? You know, both our parents came here undocumented, and so we know that experience very viscerally.

SHAPIRO: And has creating this show helped answer that question for you?

CHAVEZ: Oh, absolutely not.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAVEZ: Listen. I mean, here's the thing.

SHAPIRO: Well, so much for that.

CHAVEZ: Yeah. No, I think, like, that's where we came into it with - is that we're not going to have the answers. These are very deep, like, questions that have been happening for a very long time as people migrate, as the world changes, as things shift, as we all try to connect with each other and figure things out. I've come to the conclusion - I think Marvin has, too - where it's like, I'm not going to fix everything on my own, and this show show's not going to fix everything on its own. And all we can do is have a conversation and hope that as a community that we can come together and work our way through this because it's like a big family going to group therapy. Like, you're not going to get to the solution overnight.

SHAPIRO: So as two people who have created lives for yourselves that are wildly beyond your immigrant parents' dreams but also are, in some way - I don't know - benefitting from, contributing to, making a show about gentrification, how do you balance the pride and the guilt, the sense of accomplishment and the sense of having left someone or something behind?

CHAVEZ: Ari, you're asking the deep questions.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAVEZ: You know, I don't know. I'm not going to lie. Like, that, for me personally, has been one of the most difficult things that I've dealt with. And for me, what ultimately convinced me that, like, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing is, like, internally feeling that calling to be true. But also, we look at statistics, the impact that media has. Like, if folks like me Marvin aren't at the helm, at the steering wheel, telling our stories as best we can to make that impact, then someone else is holding that narrative. And God knows what the narrative is going to be, right?

LEMUS: And I want to add to that. I mean, for me, like, growing up, if I wanted to love myself, I thought I had to assimilate. I just devoured comedy and movies and TV shows, and not being able to see myself in those spaces turned into internalized hate and this...

SHAPIRO: Like you weren't worthy of being seen or shown.

LEMUS: Yeah. Like, I grew up - it's always so hard to have to admit it, but, like, I grew up being embarrassed of my mother's accent. I didn't want to be Mexican. I didn't want to be seen as the kind of Mexicans that you saw on TV - like, that negative portrayal. And for me, a big part of it is, like, I know and believe and trust that what we're talking about - being able to put our stories out there and being able to tell them authentically and tell them with so much love and to bleed on the page and on the screen - will empower our community to hold their heads up a little higher. So trying to just make sure that there's, like, the little brown boys and girls and the queer kids and the - like, the children of immigrants - we're here to let you know, like, you belong right here.

SHAPIRO: Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chavez, congratulations on the show, and thank you for talking with us about it.

CHAVEZ: Thank you so much. You were so amazing.

LEMUS: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: They're the co-creators of Netflix's "Gentefied."

(SOUNDBITE OF LA MISA NEGRA SONG, "SANCOCHO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.