From the jump, The Garcias is all about representation. The series is an HBO reboot of a 20-year-old Nickelodeon show, The Brothers Garcia, that the current show’s team bills as “the first English-language sitcom to have an all Latino cast and creative team.”
The Garcias follows the same family as The Brothers Garcia, with the same actors reprising their roles. The generations have shifted, though, with the parents now grandparents and the kids now parents themselves. The setting is different too: to focus on their app business, brothers George and Carlos are renting a giant beach compound in Mexico for the summer, and the whole family eventually finds their way there from their native Texas.
The final episode of the first season premieres May 12 and addresses representation head-on. Previous episodes mined identity issues by exploring family conflict around religion (not everyone is Catholic!), language (Spanish skills vary in the Garcia clan), and nationality (are you “Mexican” if you’re born in Texas?).
But they are just wind-ups to the finale, which heats up when George gets invited to guest star on the fictional Keeping Up With the Cartels. At home, his Mexican national wife Ana protests. She’s been the conscience of this Americanized family all season, pushing patriarch and historian Ray to honor the Mexican people in his professional life and teasing her husband for his “delicate American skin.” She tells George he shouldn’t be a part of Keeping up with the Cartels because it’s full of “awful stereotypes of Latinos playing drug lords and gangsters.”
George sleeps on it and has a dream. In it, he meets the “ghost of Hollywood past … and Hollywood present,” dressed up as a vato and speaking with a thick East L.A. accent. In the nightmare version of George’s life, he’s married to a white blond woman, his Mexican wife is the maid, his academic dad is an undocumented gardener, and the family business is not apps but drugs. George takes pains to say that domestic workers and gardeners do honest work but “that’s not all we are.” The ghost of Latinx representation says Hollywood disagrees, before launching into a speech about how Latinos in the U.S. are intensely stereotyped.
The sequence is a nice way to explain Latinx representation issues to the uninitiated, even if it is a bit too pat. For one, it doesn’t escape the tint of classism. The Garcias are an upper-middle-class family, and while that is certainly part of the Latinx experience, it’s not exactly the default either. Those of us who are comfortable have an easier time asserting our humanity and taking up space than the many who are struggling, so it’s not difficult for George to protest—his story as an app developer is already being told.
The thing about the Latinas-are-maids trope is that we are almost two-thirds of house cleaners. The problem isn’t casting us in these roles; it’s pretending that Latina domestic workers exist only to serve their better-off employers. It’s the negating of Latinas’ inner lives, struggles, and humanity. The Latinx episode of Apple’s Little America did a good job of counteracting this, putting the subjectivity squarely on the shoulders of the Latina maid and her family. Even The Garcias has a bit of it: matriarch Sonia is not a maid but a hairdresser—hardly a white-collar job. And The Garcias thoughtfully dramatizes her relationship with her work over the course of the season, placing it at the center of many of plot lines.
But George’s nightmare doesn’t get into that. In fact, it somehow erases the entire genre it’s in: the family Latinx sitcom. Yes, these shows get canceled far too easily. But they do exist and deserve to be celebrated. Jane The Virgin, One Day at a Time, Gentefied—they’re all part of the Latinx cannon that’s grown since The Brothers Garcia aired all those years ago.
And if we can’t celebrate those successes —and demand more and better funding for shows like The Garcias— we really will be stuck in George’s nightmare.
The first season of The Garcias is available to stream now on HBO Max.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade