"Chapter Twenty-Eight" / Courtesy of Netflix

April 22, 2020

‘On My Block’ and Life at Home

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In its pilot year, Netflix original series On My Block was one of its most binged shows in 2018. On March 11, 2020, its third season was released and rightfully made its way to Netflix’s “Top 10 in the U.S. Today” list.

In just 8 short episodes, On My Block has managed to continue the nuanced story of the lives of four childhood best friends as they enter into high school riddled with fears about their future and survival. The quirky group includes Monse, an aspiring Afro-Latina writer raised by a single, Black father, Ruby, the bookworm and middle child of a large Hispanic family, Jamal, an eccentric dork and Cesar, Monse’s love interest with familial ties to the local gang, The Santos.

By season three, the friends have survived a shooting, been kidnapped, had many inter-group fights and solved mysteries. Their adventures in the earlier seasons impressed the head of The Santos, a woman named Cuchillos who coerces the teenagers to find her former lover, Lil’ Ricky, in exchange for their survival. This mission is the main plot of season 3, and ultimately causes a rift in the friend group.

Although they go their separate ways by the end of the season, the four best friends appear confident and affirmed in their new identities. Still, the season finale has left viewers feeling unsettled and unhappy with the group’s new dynamic.

I watched all three seasons of On My Block after hearing about the university’s decision to suspend in-person classes and send students home for the remainder of the Spring semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This series, especially this third season, was successful in serving as the heartwarming, coming-of-age story I was searching for. Yet, somehow watching On My Block in light of COVID-19 and during the transition to virtual classes served another purpose. Seeing the challenging issues the characters face exemplifies the reality of the varying situations students have come home to.

The characters in the show are lighthearted, goofy and relatable, and their experiences represent a number of challenges many Cornell students face. I can see many of my own peers in the characters. Yet their ability to remain optimistic and persevere despite the unfortunate events that unfold before them or any internal battles they actively face is admirable.

It’s no secret this unconventional series is a social commentary meant to start a conversation about the difficult issues the characters face. In three seasons, the show has touched on immigration, gang violence, housing and education, toxic masculinity, PTSD and homelessness, to name a few. Many students have faced similar challenges as well in their pursuit for a quality post-secondary education. For those students, I imagine that being away at Cornell is an opportunity to make space away from the very issues the series poses. At Cornell, students have found a new home and identity. If they need to, they can unpack and heal from the situations they left.

However, for those with unstable home lives, having to return home and complete a full course load while facing similar emotions and issues the cast of On My Block experiences, is extraordinarily challenging. The personal anecdotes and testimonials in favor of Universal Pass prove this.

But On My Block is about survival. It teaches empathy, friendship, and perseverance, and is a powerful reminder to refuse being defined by the challenges you face. Although Cornellians have gone their separate ways, there’s still an unsettling feeling. Many of us are unhappy with this new reality. But like Monse, Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar, hopefully we can make the best of our respective situations.

I enjoyed watching On My Block for what it was: A witty teen drama to fill my limited free time during the transition from in-person lectures to online classes. However, I also enjoyed it as a commentary on many socioeconomic issues that people face — that Cornell students face.

Season 4 of On My Block will likely begin with finding a way to bridge all of the character’s new identities and reforming the enduring friendship the series began with. Until the next semester of in person classes starts, maybe we can resemble the characters of On My Block and rediscover ourselves during this undoubtedly difficult time. Maybe we too can make something beautiful out of the chaos.


Nkemdirim Obodo is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached [email protected]