The On My Block Cast On The Show That Changed Teen TV

The Netflix drama centered Black and Latinx teens in a space long dominated by white protagonists.

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

When On My Block debuted on Netflix in 2018, Hollywood was still figuring out how to center Black and Latinx experiences. Though TV was slowly becoming more diverse, actors of color were too often relegated to the roles of antagonists, advice-givers, or sassy sidekicks. This was especially prevalent on young adult shows, where they were mere footnotes in white protagonists’ stories.

On My Block was different. Set in the fictional city of Freeridge in Southern California, the coming of age drama starred several teens of color. Across four seasons, the show humorously and heartbreakingly captured the excitement of young adulthood — even as gang violence and death wove in and out of the friends’ lives. As the characters went on wild treasure hunts, faced off against terrifying gang bosses, and even communed with magical gnomes, emotional authenticity was always the guidepost. On My Block never shied away from the realities of inner city violence, the reasons young people join gangs, and the financial insecurities that Black and Latinx households face. It also portrayed the unshakeable love and friendship the teens had for each other, capturing how their vibrant community always came together in the face of hardships. When the series concluded on Oct. 4, it ended as it began: at a backyard party, celebrating the families who call Freeridge home.

Below, stars Diego Tinoco (Cesar), Sierra Capri (Monse), Brett Gray (Jamal), Jessica Marie Garcia (Jasmine), and Julio Macias (Oscar) reflect on the end of the show, the futures they hope to see for their characters, and how the series changed them.


On Landing The Role

From the start, On My Block reflected the diversity of inner city life by featuring a multicultural cast and a fully Black and Latinx writers’ room. Some of the actors, like Tinoco and Capri, were relative newcomers, while others, like Macias and Garcia, knew what it was like to be hired in only supporting roles.

Jessica Marie Garcia: In the beginning of my career, I was always the Latina friend to a white lead. So the fact that I was surrounded by people of color and we were telling our own stories was mind blowing to me. I just wish that little 12 to 13-year-old Jessica could have seen that growing up too.

Brett Gray: We all say things like representation matters, and that we want to see ourselves on television so that we can know that our stories are valid. But in my head, that existed as [just] Hollywood talk. Seeing the reaction that young Black guys [had to Jamal], people who just came up to me and commented on my photos, [showed me that] it genuinely had an impact on them.

Julio Macias: When I was cast, they [showed me] the scene where me and Diego are sitting at the beach talking, and that made me realize that this is more than just about a gang member. Oscar is not doing this for the money or the aesthetic. He's doing this for the love of his brother. After the show premiered, I start[ed] to get messages from parents who [said], “I did similar things [that] your character [did]. I haven't spoken to my daughter in years, but thanks to the show, she sort of understands why I did what I did.”

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

On The Deaths of Oscar and Abuelita

As the kids went through endless difficulties, two adults had their backs: Ruby’s Abuelita Marisol (Peggy Blow), and Oscar. In Season 4, Oscar gets jumped out of the Santos gang, falls in love, has a child, and purchases a restaurant in Portland — only to get shot and killed before he can realize his dream. Abuelita, meanwhile, reveals that she’s terminally ill. She dies on prom night, and the series ends on a party celebrating her life.

Diego Tinoco: How I feel about Oscar’s death is exactly how Cesar felt at the end of Episode 5. Most of that entire dialogue spoken after the gunshots fired was improvised. Julio truly is like a brother to me. So when we were shooting the death scene, it messed me up. I left set that day really numb and down. But I think Oscar’s death was something that his character always knew could be around the corner any day. I love that Cesar makes a clear-cut decision to exit the gang life. He finally realizes that there’s much more to this world.

“I want [viewers] to understand why people choose [gang] life, and I want them to have empathy for people that choose that life.”

Macias: I do wish that we could have given Oscar something more. At the same time, I want [viewers] to understand why people choose [gang] life, and I want them to have empathy for people that choose that life. I think that the message is more poignant now. When we see Oscar change and evolve and almost get out, it becomes more personal. It becomes, “What could we have done as a society? What could his have parents done for him from the beginning?”

Gray: Peggy and I had such a great relationship off-camera; acting with her is like a master class. She's been around for so long, has done so much and has such incredible skill. [In the last season I was] talking to Peggy about what I'm doing next after my first series regular [role], just feeling lost and a little insecure. That moment with Jamal where [Abuelita] is talking about purpose, and about how staying true to yourself is what matters and how in the long run you’ll see what you're meant for — I felt like she was talking to me in that moment. So that was a really emotional day on set.

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

On Who Ends Up Together

The series began with Monse and Cesar hiding their relationship and Jasmine pining endlessly for Ruby before finally getting together with him in Season 4. By prom night, both Monse and Jasmine realize they’re better off single, and everyone breaks up. But future romances are teased in the final moments of the series — including Jamal revealing his crush on Monse.

Tinoco: I’m not sure if [Monse and Cesar] will end up together. I think they are both really young and have a lot to learn and experience before they completely just settle down with one another. Maybe down the line. But they have to learn to love themselves first all the way. I hope teenagers who’ve watched the show get that message from it.

Sierra Capri: I saw a lot of fans commenting that they were sad [Cesar and Monse] weren't endgame, like, “You guys really took us through all this just for you two to not get together?!” But who knows! Right now, they’re both figuring out who they are. They might come together and realize [they] are healthy for each other and do make each other better people. But they'll always be friends, and they'll always love each other regardless.

Gray: Absolutely [a Monse and Jamal relationship could work]. In my mind, 20 years from now Jamal is a billionaire tech mogul and his wife is Monse, a New York Times bestselling author. They travel the world together writing about their stories and searching for buried treasures.

Garcia: I think it's realistic [that Ruby and Jasmine break up]. For the first couple of seasons, Jasmine was really big on [being independent], and I feel like she lost a bit of that in this relationship — speaking for Ruby and toppling over him in certain scenes. As much as that frustrated me, for Jasmine I kind of understood it. She's been this caretaker for so long that she [starts] doing that for Ruby. But she needed to remember who she is. I do think they're destined to be together, though. They're the only ones who can handle each other.

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

On The Ideal Ending For Their Characters

Now that he’s left the Santos gang, Cesar announces he’s attending the local community college alongside Jasmine, who has to turn down UC Berkeley to care for her dad. Monse wants to take a gap year to write a memoir, while Jamal reunites with his ex Kendra and is recruited by her boss, mysterious tech mogul Noel Aroma.

Tinoco: I’d like to see Cesar graduating from college and starting a job or at least an internship in something he really wants to do, since his original dream was to become an architect. I definitely [want him to get] away from Freeridge, away from drama, and away from the gang life. Or, shoot… let’s just put him on a reality TV show since the kid loves kissing pretty girls and [being in] love triangles.

Capri: I would love for Monse to make peace with everything that's happened with her mom. I feel like there were a lot of questions that were left unanswered, and a lot of things that she still doesn't know about herself.

Gray: The scene with Noel Aroma is just so weird! I don't know if Jamal is like a spy now or if he works for a tech [company], but I think he'll get bored of that very quickly. And I don't think it will ever work out with Kendra. I really feel like Noel and Kendra are part of the Illuminati, and Jamal will work with them and find that out and try to take down the whole operation and have his own thing. [But I can’t see Jamal] working with Noel for a long time. I think Noel is probably evil.

“I’d always been a guest star and was just so happy to be there. I never stood up for myself or really owned the skin that I was in.”

Garcia: I hope that Jasmine has a good experience at community college, and then finds what she wants to do. I hope that she uses her tenacity and her street smarts in order to help her in the next chapter of her life, and that she finds help with her dad so she doesn't have to be home all the time, because I think that's a very realistic situation. I was taking care of my grandmother with dementia for about 10 years of my life trying to come over from Florida to California, so I felt for Jasmine a lot.

Macias: [What Oscar would hope for Cesar] is a clean slate moving forward. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why Oscar doesn't tell Cesar who gunned him down. “Let this go. Let this world, let this life, die with me. You take care of yourself.” He always said that Cesar was smarter than him, better than him, and more empathetic than him. [Oscar would say], “Lean into that, you have so much to offer the world.”

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

On How They’ve Grown Since The Show Began

Tinoco: I was 19 years old when I first started this show. I’m almost 24 now. My biggest takeaway is to work hard. If there’s something you truly want, then do it and go 100% — no half in, half out. Leave it all on the table.

Capri: I feel like I definitely had a crash course in Hollywood. I was able to realize how strong I am as an individual and how resilient I am. With the blessing of the producers, I was able to finally come into my own and do what I wanted to do with Monse’s character, which I'm so grateful that they trusted me to do.

Gray: I learned that I'm not as extroverted as I seem, so it's been awesome to play Jamal and force myself to be confident and take on the [personality] of someone who is wacky.

Garcia: I found my voice as Jessica. I’d always been a guest star and was just so happy to be there. I never stood up for myself or really owned the skin that I was in. I feel like this show has really helped me blossom into the creator I'm going to be in the future.

Macias: As the years have gone by, I've gotten more aware and proud about what representation means. I'm 32, so maybe my generation was the last generation to not really think about it so vocally, because I do see a lot of younger actors talk about that right out of the gate. When I was starting 10 years ago, I was just looking for a job. I wasn't really arguing or having the conversations of, “Hey, can we be more than just waiters?” I was like, “Hey, can I get that paycheck?” But it’s changing. I'm happy that the next batch of actors are saying ... “Do these roles serve a purpose? Are they stereotypical? Do they bring life to the foreground?”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.