‘On My Block’ Advances the Teen Genre By Balancing Latine Characters Problems and Joys

Lead Photo: Photo by Kevin Estrada. Courtesy of Netflix.
Photo by Kevin Estrada. Courtesy of Netflix.
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Netflix’s On My Block is the rare teen show to dramatize what it is to be part of Latine, Black, or Brown communities in a hardscrabble neighborhood in LA. With the final season here, the show gave our protagonists a proper send-off, balancing hope for their futures’ with a real acknowledgment of their problems.

I want to be clear though – On My Block is fun and has plenty of the teen stuff you’d expect. In this season, we see Monse and Ruby scramble for a prom date. Jasmine and Jamal struggle to pick where to go for college. And Cesar works on his grades so he can graduate. Plus, there’s plenty of the show’s signature comedy – including a hilarious scene in which Ruby’s parents confront him and Jasmine about their loud lovemaking.

On My Block balances that light stuff with the violence inherent in living a gang-terrorized block. Cesar’s at the center of this dynamic as a member of the Santos and the one most affected when the truce between rival gangs breaks down. But it affects all our teens whether’s it’s Jamal being worried for his life when he realizes he’s being followed or the flashback where we learn that Monse and Cesar broke up because hanging out with him put her in danger.

It’s this combination of the “standard” (aka white, suburban) teen fare with the specific problems common in under-resourced communities of color — think Jasmine being primarily responsible for taking care of her dad or Monse dealing with her fair-skinned mom abandoning her because she was too “different.” That really makes the show so special. By mixing the two, On My Block normalizes its characters’ experiences without whitewashing them.

In this season, one of my favorite sequences is when Monse, Ruby, and Jamal fess up to their parents about everything that’s happened over the course of the show. The grown-ups are confused and shocked but present. They first assert their authority (“go to your room!”) and then start working out what to do (Abuelita knows). But it’s telling that these three all have adults who love them, who will do anything to protect them. Cesar doesn’t have anyone there and he’s the one in the most danger. It’s a smart insight and one backed up by science – having a loving adult in your life makes a big difference.

On My Block is full of these little truth bombs, blowing up the classic teen genre as they go off. Jasmine and Monse talking in the bathroom at prom is one of them, showing how young women can be allies and not enemies. But perhaps the most revolutionary one is how the show ends with hope for each of its principal characters. By giving them all a chance at a future, On My Block shows that these kids from various communities should not be underestimated. They’re the heroes of their own lives. And their narratives are funny, complex, and important – or as Jessica Marie Garcia, who plays Jasmine, said, “Our stories are valid.”

Watch all four seasons of On My Block on Netflix now.