'Gentefied' leading actresses talk about Spanglish, tacos and being 'Latina enough'

“The world is now seeing what we see at home," says Honduran-American actress Karrie Martin about her character in a bicultural, bilingual family.

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By Ludwig Hurtado

The three leading female stars of the new Netflix series "Gentefied"say there's a reason why the bilingual, bicultural show has been so fun to make.

“It’s fun because it’s us,” says Karrie Martin, who grew up in a Honduran-American household and plays a young artist, Ana, on the show. “The world is now seeing what we see at home."

The series, executive produced by America Ferrera, features three Mexican-American cousins living in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights in L.A. They're trying to figure out their own lives, which are intricately intertwined with their grandfather's taco restaurant — and the struggle to keep the business viable amid rising rents and the slow gentrification of the neighborhood.

Annie Gonzalez, who plays Lidia, a Stanford-educated, brainy young woman on the show, was born and raised in East LA. She is now an actress in Hollywood, and uses her own life as an example of the show's title, which is a play on words.

“If I were to go back and want to buy a piece of property, I would essentially be replacing or displacing a group of people that live there — for my benefit,” she said. That’s gentefication: the process by which more affluent Latinos are gentrifying working-class Latino neighborhoods. The title is a play on the words gente, which means people in Spanish, and gentrification.

The issue of younger, affluent professionals displacing working-class Latino families is an ongoing issue in several parts of the country, whether it's in Brooklyn, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

The show delves into serious topics about work, gender, economics and family, but with humor. It's also one of the few shows that move seamlessly between languages, with the older Latinos speaking Spanish to the younger generation, who answer in English.

The bilingual nature of the series is personal for Gonzalez who, as a fifth-generation Mexican-American, didn’t learn Spanish at home because her family was reluctant to teach it.

“We were forced to assimilate," said Gonzalez. "My grandma would get hit if she spoke Spanish in school."

"Gentefied" deals with the themes of Latino identity and authenticity, which Gonzalez said were relatable for her. Growing up, she experienced being questioned by other Latinos over whether she was embarrassed by her culture or how Mexican she really was.

"I couldn't be more Mexican if I tried,” she said.

Gonzalez has a role in another show, "Vida," which also explores the issue of changing neighborhoods and gentrification in Boyle Heights, drawing some questions about the need for more than one show on the topic.

Gonzalez says no one questions shows on similar topics with predominantly white actors. "If we can have all these other procedurals of police shows and firefighters shows, we could have more shows like this. There's never enough.”

Julissa Calderón, who plays Ana's girlfriend, Yessika, says she was most excited for her own mother to see the show. Her mother didn't quite believe her when Calderón told her it would have a lot of Spanish — but her mom was pleasantly surprised.

"It's a reflection, it's a mirror of us," said Calderón, an Afro-Latina actress of Dominican descent. "It's what happens in our house."

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