Culture

As Someone Who Grew Up In Colombia This Is Why It’s Really Difficult To Watch ‘Narcos’

Credit: Felipe Torres / Narcos / Netflix

It’s Fall again, and while New York City might still feel like Labor Day hasn’t happened yet, a new Fall staple has definitely sunk in, People asking me if I’ve seen “Narcos” yet.

My reaction:

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Credit: Harry Potter / Universal


Yes, Narcos is a very popular show. It is, however, a show that is difficult to watch as a person born in Colombia a few years before Pablo Escobar’s death. The problem is, that while it’s a good show – a show that’s important for Colombians (particularly millennials) to watch and understand – it is, at the same time, a show aimed at a global audience that will never understand it the way Colombians do.

Why is “Narcos” Important?

I was born in 1991. Two years before Pablo Escobar died (spoiler alert!) on a rooftop in Medellín. I lived in Colombia for most of my life, until I moved to the United States in 2013. In the 21 years I lived there, the way I was thought to talk about Pablo was simple: Just say he was a bad man who did many bad things, but those things don’t happen anymore. Oh, and make sure this is what you tell Americans, tourists and anyone that you meet abroad.

This is the mindset most people my age and social background were raised with. Colombian millennials speak of Pablo as wizards spoke of Voldemort in 1997. We heard the murmur of “the dark days”, the days of Pablo. When politicians were murdered, planes were blown up, and rebels took the Palacio de Justicia. These are things that adults speak of under their breath. Things that happened, but to us, seem to have happened in another place. In another country. In another world. This is because we are told to forget about our past. To ignore the painful truth and focus on how well things are going nowadays.

Credit: USAtoday.com

Why watching “Narcos” became a cathartic experience?

I was mad! I was mad at my parents and teachers for hiding the truth. History books don’t talk about it, and unless you take a college class in drug trade or recent Colombian history, you as a Colombian will not know what happened. It’s like we have taken a giant eraser and tried to sloppily fade everything that happened from 1977 to 1993. Yet, Narcos feels authentic. In the opening five minutes, we’re shown an aerial shot of my hometown and my second favorite city in the world (NYC edges this one): Bogotá.

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Credit: Narcos. Netflix

Despite the early criticism of the show casting foreign Latinxs, the show features some of the most talented Colombian actors in a generation, such as Juan Pablo Raba, Manolo Cardona, Cristina Umaña and Martina García. Even lesser known Colombian actors, like radio host-turned-actor Mauricio Cujar. The Colombians are by far the standout performers on the show, but we can’t forget Brazilian actor, Wagner Moura whose performance as Pablo Escobar is electrifying! The scenes between Moura and Raba as Pablo Escobar and his cousin Gustavo Gaviria are, by far, the best scenes in the show.

Mauricio Cujar as the despicable Don Berna (Netflix)
Credit: Narcos / Netflix

So Why is “Narcos” Harmful?

As much good as the show does for Colombia’s film and TV industry, and as good as it is for my generation to understand our past, I understand why “Narcos” is harmful.

Picture this: You break up with your abusive ex and takes you 10 years to get over that person. Everyone disapproved of your decisions when you were together. Now, you’re finally getting yourself back together, you’ve found new hobbies, you’ve become more positive… overall your much better! Then all of a sudden, a friend starts showing you pictures of your ex and telling everyone how great he was, which makes everyone remember how big of a mess you were. They assume you’re still in that sloppy phase even though you’ve made a ton of personal growth. You could tell them how much better you’re doing now, but they’d rather just hear about it from that person who won’t shut up about your evil ex. In this scenario, you’re Colombia, Pablo Escobar is your evil ex, and Netflix and “Narcos” is that friend who can’t shut up about Pablo. Leaving you feeling basically like this:

Giphy/Disney
Credit: The Hunchback of Notredame. Disney.


Colombia doing well is great for Colombia, but bad for Hollywood. It’s just not a great story. No one wants to hear about biodiversity or the Peace Process that will end the longest armed conflict in the Americas, because that doesn’t fit the narrative they are selling to the United States. A narrative of barbaric brown people and white saviors. A narrative where Latin America remains a barbaric and underdeveloped region. And more importantly, a narrative where drugs are our problem. Where the “demand” part of “supply and demand” doesn’t count.

“Narcos,” and most American TV dramas in general, can be summed up in this one Game of Thrones scene:

Giphy/HBO
Credit: Game of Thrones / HBO

The White Savior Syndrome, in which a white person is being heralded as a god by thousands of brown people. Particularly in drug shows, white heroes tend to fend off the brown monsters that are the drug dealers. Breaking Bad, which has often been called the best show in the history of TV is the number one offender. Narcos attempts to appease Latinx viewers by giving us nuggets of “woke-ness.” There are scenes where they show the debauchery and hypocrisy of American drug consumers and scenes where they show the true stories of the CIA partnering up and funding murderers in Colombia in their fight against Pablo. A fight guided more by results than the desire of a peaceful Colombia. However, these scenes are treated as afterthoughts. 

This is where the show becomes a double-edged sword. It tells a story Colombians need to know to face the past and improve our future. But it also reinforces the Colombian stereotype in the minds of those outsiders. Suddenly, Americans are more likely to ask me when was the last time there was a car bomb in Colombia, rather than ask how many Colombian lives were lost for a gram of Colombian cocaine. Narcos tells the story of modern-day Colombia which American audiences are ignoring as they rather focus on just the Hollywood stuff. And who can blame them? The Hollywood stuff is fun. It’s such a compelling story.

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Credit: Hollywood Sign.org


Despite all this, I stand by my belief that Narcos is an important show for Colombia, and I will continue to watch it and encourage as many Colombians to watch it, too. I will also try to tell my American friends to read between the lines when they watch it.

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Credit: Narcos / Netflix

READ: Pablo Escobar’s Brother Sent Netflix A ‘Friendly’ Letter Re: ‘Narcos’

What do you think about “Narcos”? Let us know and don’t forget to hit that share button.

Selena Gomez Announces New Netflix Series ‘Living Undocumented’

Entertainment

Selena Gomez Announces New Netflix Series ‘Living Undocumented’

Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Selena Gomez continues her reign as a Netflix producer with Living Undocumented. It is always great when celebrities use their platforms to enrich and educate. Gomez has a huge platform and can generate huge numbers. 13 Reasons Why blew Netflix’s expectations out of the water, and I can’t help but think it’s because of Gomez’s enormous Instagram following. The girl has reach. 

As you might have guessed, Living Undocumented is a documentary series that follows the lives of undocumented immigrants as they navigate life under the looming threat of increasingly cruel immigration policies and ICE raids.

Selena Gomez announces Living Undocumented on Instagram

“I am so humbled to be a part of Netflix’s documentary series Living Undocumented. The immigration issue is more complex than one administration, one law or the story you hear about on the news. These are real people in your community, your neighbors, your friends—they are all part of the country we call home. I can’t wait for you guys to see this and hope it impacts you like it impacted me. Available globally October 2,” Gomez wrote.

Living Undocumented 

Living Undocumented will focus on eight undocumented families. Premiering on October 2nd on Netflix, the show will chronicle the families as they face possible deportation. The narratives will range from hopeful to infuriating, but the series will put a human face on a dehumanized group of people. 

It cannot be said again that the United States has always struggled with two contradictory narratives: the one where it is a beacon of hope for the tired, hungry, and poor, versus the one where it has upheld numerous racist and xenophobic immigration policies. This is an issue that predates Trumpito, even if he has kicked it into it’s most degrading form. 

“I chose to produce this series, Living Undocumented because, over the past few years, the word ‘immigrant’ has seemingly become a negative word,” said Gomez. “My hope is that the series can shed light on what it’s like to live in this country as an undocumented immigrant firsthand, from the courageous people who have chosen to share their stories.”

Gomez is joined by executive producers Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Mandy Teefey, Anna Chai, and Sean O’Grady. Chai will also co-direct the series.

“Living Undocumented is designed to illuminate one of the most important issues of our time. But rather than discussing this issue with only statistics and policy debates, we wanted viewers to hear directly from the immigrants themselves, in their own words, with all the power and emotion that these stories reflect.”

Humanizing immigrants is key

People don’t just bring guns into Walmarts to kill 22 innocent humans beings for no reason. It is no secret that President Trump’s dehumanizing language was a catalyst for the El Paso shooting. The suspect whose name shall not be invoked told officers he was looking to kill “Mexicans.” Mexicans — the Latinxs Trump referred to as rapists and criminals. The mass murderer also said he wanted to stop a “Hispanic Invasion,” in his manifesto. Trump called Central Americans “invaders.” 

According to Pew Research Center, this year they found that 58 percent of Latinx adults say they experienced discrimination because of their race or ethnicity. Across all races and ethnic groups, two-thirds of individuals surveyed say that expressing racist views has become more common since Trump was elected. 

This year, at a Trump rally, supporters were cheering about shooting immigrants. 

“How do you stop these people?” Trump asks. Then someone yelled back, “Shoot them.” Trump smiled. The crowd cheered. Three months later, the El Paso shooting took 22 lives.

“The language that criminalizes and makes Latinos out to be evil is affecting our own citizens and it’s going to have both short- and long-term consequences that we are starting to see in the Latino population,” Elizabeth Vaquera, an associate professor at George Washington University who studies vulnerable groups, told the Washington Post.

A Bipartisan Non-Issue Becomes A Partisan Issue

This immigration “issue” started off as a hoax but through Trump’s horrible policies he created this new immigration crisis. In 2017, when Trump took office, migrants arrested at the border were at the lowest level in three decades. 

Three former employees of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote in Politico, the border crisis is all Trump’s fault.

 “It is Donald Trump himself who is responsible. Through misguided policies, political stunts and a failure of leadership, the president has created the conditions that allowed the asylum problem at the border to explode into a crisis.” 

Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 80 percent of Democrats view the fact that the majority of the United States will be nonwhite by 2045 as a good thing, while 61 percent of Republicans say it is bad. 

The barrage of harmful rhetoric has turned what was not even a problem into a national crisis with opinions straddling partisan lines, and a heightened hatred of Latinx people. Living Undocumented might be exactly what this country needs. 

In A Major Political Statement, Los Tigres Del Norte Play Concert For Inmates At Folsom Prison And It’s Captured In A Netflix Doc

Entertainment

In A Major Political Statement, Los Tigres Del Norte Play Concert For Inmates At Folsom Prison And It’s Captured In A Netflix Doc

Netflix just dropped an amazing documentary that follows the legendary Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte as they visit Folsom Prison in California, and perform for the inmates. Of course, this is a political act in itself: performing to those who are serving a sentence is going against conservative views that inmates should be isolated from society. This is particularly relevant in the Trump era, as convicted felons are stripped of their humanity in political discourse, oftentimes with racial and racist connotations. 

The famous Johnny Cash played a concert there 50 years ago, a great political statement at the time.

Credit: Johnny-Cash-Folsom. Digital image. Talk Business and Politics

Cash swore at and denounced the authorities in his groundbreaking performance at the Folsom Prison cafeteria. He was just spectacular, calling out mistreatment of prisoners and making inmates feel heard. Even though he didn’t go to prison himself, he often wrote songs about incarceration and received dozens of letters from prisoners. What a legend. The original Man in Black! 

Things have changed: over 40% of the inmates today are Latino. Enter Los Tigres del Norte.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

The prison population encountered by Cash was mostly Black and white, and only a few Latinos spent their days behind Folsom’s bars. But the population is vastly different today, and Latino faces are seen everywhere. For the concert, Los Tigres dressed in black, honoring the memory of Cash. “Doing this job inside the prison is a very significant thing for us. We sing true stories and everything we’ve recorded we try to make it from the pure heart, taken from the feelings of the human being,” said Jorge Hernandez, vocalist and accordionist, to CD Noticias Financieras. 

And they opened the show with their own version of the iconic Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

The documentary starts with full engines on. Los Tigres, with the Cash family blessing, reimagined “Folsom Prison Blues” and gave it a Mexican saborcito that is just a delight. The banjo is replaced by the iconic accordion and the inmates shed a tear when listening to the story in Spanish: a man is imprisoned in Folsom and listens to a train full of rich people go by. He knows he will never be on that train and that he will die behind bars.

As reported by CE Noticias Financieras: “The first single from the album, ‘La Prisión de Folsom (Folsom Prision Blues)’ is the first Spanish-language version of Johnny Cash’s classic song, created with the support of his son, John Carter Cash,and written in collaboration with Ana Cristina Cash,daughter-in-law of the artist”. 

Los Tigres del Norte sing about marginalized individuals.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

Their corridos, some of which are controversial for humanizing cartel members, talk of rags to riches stories, but also of the many perils faced by undocumented migrants. Many prisoners at Folsom could relate. Ay, dolor. 

And the documentary shows plenty of heartbreaking stories.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

Songs such as “La jaula de oro” (about an undocumented worker feeling trapped un the United States) are intercut with the inmates’ own stories of regret, redemption and loss. The first half focuses on the male population while the second explores the lives of female inmates. Many of them have found redemption in religion, while others have had to dig deep into their family past to unearth the reasons behind their crimes. 

But there are also stories of redemption.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

The most teary and joyful moment of the documentary comes when a prisoner who used to be a musician shares the stage with Los Tigres. He gets the self respect he has been fighting his demons for since he was imprisoned for murder. It is a tender moment in which he probably gained the respect of all the other reclusos as well. 

Many inmates were put there because of the three-strike rule.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

Some of the stories point to a fundamental fault in the system whereby no matter how small your crime is, if you got other two convictions under your belt you end up in jail. Harsh and also a rule that seems to target marginalized communities that don’t get enough help to straighten the path.

Los Tigres spent some quality time with the inmates, showing us that we all deserve a second chance.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

Los Tigres del Norte have been blamed for glorifying crime and his songs have been banned in places like the Mexican state of Chihuahua. However, by seeing them laugh with and hug a group of inmates we realize that they are just able and willing to find human kindness in everyone. Sometimes, they say, all someone needs is to be heard. 

Of course, social media is going crazy about the documentary, particularly during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Credit: Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison / Netflix

Even though the documentary has only been available for a few days, Twitter has exploded with positive reviews. 

The music is almost irrelevant compared to the strong political message “Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison” sends.

Credit: Twitter. @urban_ag

And people are noticing. The documentary will surely spark discussions around the penitentiary system in the United States and the lives of Latinos in the face of inequality. 

And it is bringing families together.

Credit: Twitter. @selfproclvimed

Can we join you and sing hasta el amanecer

And of course it is giving la raza all the feels.

Credit: Twitter. @gabyseeta

We are right there with you, Gabinha. 

Puro Orgullo Mexicano!

Credit: Twitter. @YayyitsDre

Gracias, Netflix.