HBO’s Genera+ion shows what it means for a young, queer Latina to fumble through romance for the first time. It’s not just a romcom, but a journey that is complex, familial, unsure, and, at times, awkward.
HBO’s Genera+ion is a quick, witty high school series that mixes the evocative drama of Skins and the cinematographic fantasia of Euphoria. And while particular scenes feel played out for shock value (ex. a mall bathroom birthing), there are stellar performances between the cast of ten high school students exploring their sexualities, identities, and relationships in the suburbs of Orange County. But what stood out was the portrayal and story arc of one particular character: a young, queer Chicana named Greta Moreno.
Played by 24-year old debut actor, Haley Sanchez, Greta is the most realized character that parallels the girls I knew in high school. The look? Lush hair, big hoops, plaid shirt, dark denim, and thick belt. She’s soft-spoken, socially awkward, kind, and loyal to her friends and family. Greta is an anchor to the entire series. She’s magnetic and all the characters seem to relax with her as they share their fears, hopes, and joys. Greta doesn’t label her sexuality or gender identity but navigates her queerness via romantic feelings for an adventurous, carefree photography classmate named Riley.
Greta’s homelife is familiar to the lives of first-generation Latinx youth in the United States. Set in a working-class neighborhood, Greta lives in an apartment with her Tia Ana, played by Trans actress Nava Mau, and younger brother. Greta’s father is absent and her mother has been recently deported to Guadalajara by ICE while attempting to stay connected via Facetime chats. Greta’s relationship to her Tia Ana is a powerful antidote for a young person who feels afraid to shine and express themselves. Nava Mau plays a vivacious, perceptive Tia that nudges Greta to take risks and explore her relationship with Riley and other queer friends. I was terrified to reveal desires for another boy or act on my femme mannerisms while growing up. The only family relative that ever held space for me and innately understood who I could become was my own Tia and her wife. The “Tia Ana’s” of the world are the fairy godmothers that give respite to family expectations layered in gender roles and patriarchy.
While Greta lives with her Tia, Greta’s Mom Sela, played by Panamanian actress Patricia De Leon does not go unnoticed. Sela is a sensitive, controlling presence as she attempts to regulate how her daughter dresses/acts based on homophobic ideas, all while experiencing a heartbreaking distance due to deportation. Television has largely showcased immigrant families living under one roof (One Day At a Time, Cristela, Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off the Boat, etc). But a more nuanced and rawer portrayal of Latinx family dynamics, specifically the after-effects of deportation is rarely highlighted. Shows like Genera+ion and Party of Five (a FreeForm series where five children have their parents deported by ICE) portray this reality.
What still holds in Genera+ion and many Latinx series is how women often carry the responsibility, emotions, tradition, and soul of the entire family. In Genera+ion, the women of the family could not be more different. Not only are they in separate places, but they are also at different points on the spectrum of gender identity and sexuality—sparking interesting rifts filled with tension. One where Greta’s mother demands obedience, tradition, and stability, Tia Ana encourages growth, confidence, and experimentation, and Greta follows love, belonging, and independence.
In Genera+ion, Greta’s story represents how queerness in the Latinx community is not a straightforward process or one where someone “comes out” in protest. It’s a complex and familial journey, one where Greta is attempting to untie the expectations set against her while being a “good” hija. Greta is also in no rush to define herself. She is every teen adrift in emotions and thoughts that are forming in real-time. Fluid and evolving.
A review from Wired perfectly encapsulates where Genera+ion hits its stride: “…in moments of adolescent drift, when interactions, experiences, and confessions don’t feel strained or labored when they just are.”
Greta holds her own, she doesn’t feel like an overwrought TV-written teen attempting to shock others at every turn or make over-dramatic gestures. And while certain moments of exaggeration are common in teenage life, states of boredom, drift, and casual conversation are really where we can know a character’s inner thoughts and desires.
Genera+ion isn’t the catch-all portrayal of the Gen-Z experience, but it is certainly one that shines when it focuses on the crossroads of adolescence, romance, and queerness: a path rife with complexity, infatuation, excitement, fear, and hope. Actor Haley Sanchez not only perfectly plays Greta but gives her character a realism that kept me watching until the very end. This is her first major TV project and at 24, I cannot wait to see what comes next.