Since the cancellation of shows like The Get Down and East Los High, the cinematic coming of age stories of Latinx and African American kids n low-income neighborhoods have been hardr to come by. Yes, shows like One Day at a Time and black-ish are popular, but they only depict middle-class families of color. Filmmakers seem to ignore the fact that there are many households that are still growing up in the struggle in East LA or the Bronx.
Netflix’s latest series On My Block, however, is here to bring those types of stories back to the forefront.
Monsé, Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal are ready to enter high school. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, we learn that the motley crew of 14 year olds are no stranger to violence, shootouts, and sex. Their street smarts band them together and protect them, but it doesn’t define them—it keeps them safe and gives them something to laugh about as they run for shelter while guessing what type of gun is going off.
Monsé, who has an African-American father who is a truck driver (and hardly ever home) and a Latina mother who left when she was two, is the first Afro-Latina lead we’ve seen in a young adult show in a long time. An aspiring writer and leader of the crew, she comes off blunt and overprotective, but she always has whatever is best for the crew in mind.
Cesar is best described as a good kid born into less than perfect circumstances. Born into family ties with the Santos, a local gang, he reluctantly accepts. Instead of pursuing his dreams of becoming an architect, he will have to be part of the gang. This doesn’t stop him from pursuing other desires, though…namely his budding romance with Monsé.
Jamal is another refreshing character. An African American kid who is the son of a high school football champ, he feels the pressure from his parents to continue his father’s legacy. Always the Dewey Decimal dork, he is way more concerned about unlocking the legend of the hidden treasure of their neighborhood, the Roller World fortune, than play football.
Ruby is the epitome of a guy about his shit. When he’s not helping out his pot-smoking abuela with her crazy antics, he’s delivering an argument to whomever will listen with the utmost confidence and ease. With his intricate ideas rolling out his mouth at a rapid-fire pace, he’s a force to be reckoned with. His only weakness? His “cousin” Olivia, (aka the cousin who isn’t really his cousin, just the daughter of his mom’s friend) who has just moved in and unintentionally disrupts the easy flow of the crew.
Olivia is the wildcard of the series. A Texas transplant, she arrives on Ruby’s doorstep after her parents were deported with nowhere else to go. A sweet, well-meaning girl, she wants to fit into the group seamlessly but it’s complicated by Ruby’s attraction as well as an additional love triangle she stumbles into.
Then there’s Jasmine — and we all know a Jasmine. Jasmine is every girl who wants to fit in but can’t really find the right way to do so. She’s over the top on every level, sometimes to the point of being annoying. At the end of the day though, no matter how many times she’s shut down, she bounces back and is always there to help.
The show’s first season tackles a bunch of issues in its 10 episode 30-minute collection and does so without judgment attached. From cultural appropriation to gang life, there are few issues that this show strays away from. But most importantly, the general plot line of inner city kids of color living through the ups and downs of adolescence is something we rarely get to see. It’s messy, funny as hell, tear-jerking, and heartwarming — more than likely, you’ll be feeling all those emotions within minutes of each other.
But that’s exactly what makes it genuine. We wouldn’t have it any other way.