What ‘One Day At A Time’ Meant for the Latinx Family in Media
“One Day At A Time” gave viewers an ode to Latinx women in a way that no other show had.
By Lory Martinez
This month, Netflix announced the cancellation of critically acclaimed series “One Day at A Time” after three seasons. Fans protested the streaming platform’s decision because the show’s diverse cast was a much-needed response to the current lack of Latinx representation on TV. But more than giving us the representation we needed, ODAAT gave us a well-deserved ode to single Latinx moms.
Norman Lear’s original series of the same name tells the story of a single mother, Anna Romano (Bonnie Franklin) raising her two teenage daughters in Indianapolis. Netflix’s reboot is a contemporary version of that narrative, but this time, the mother is a single Latina living in California, going through the same family and career struggles, but with the added stress of race and discrimination hanging overhead.
During a time when politicians blame many Latinx people for the woes of the entire country, ODAAT makes the single Latina mom a hero: Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is a powerful army veteran and divorcée who prides herself on fighting for what’s right.
During a brief moment in the late 90s and the early 2000s, there was a demand for programming which showed American families in all their diversity, and networks noticed. At the time, there were just a few shows that shared the Latinx experience: “George Lopez”, “The Brothers Garcia” and “Taina” to name a few. These series showed us versions of the nuclear family—typically a mother, father, sister and brother—that most Americans are familiar with and which typically center white families and follow deeply-entrenched tropes and familiar themes.
In recent years, shows like “Jane the Virgin” and ODAAT gave us a different family structure—one that is just as real, and just as true for so many Latinx families: that of the single mom, raising her kids with the support of her own mother. They’re an ode to the power of Latina women, and women in general.
When it launched in 2014, the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” focused on a family of three generations of Latina women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) and the matriarch of the family, Alba (Ivonne Villanueva) are the only family that actually stays intact throughout the series, supporting one another through green card applications, relationships, child-raising and everything in between. If it had been cancelled after just 3 seasons, we wouldn’t have been able to see how these women helped support each other through loss and illness, and all the very real things that affect Latinx families in our country.
Like Xiomara, Penelope from ODAAT is a single mom, but unlike Xiomara, she has no partner, no true love to give her a nice, rounded out happy ending. She is recently divorced, and although she dates, she is essentially romantically-unattached throughout the series and it isn’t a tragic issue painted in a sexist or demeaning way and divests from the tired trope of the “lonely, single woman”. Life has thrown Penelope into a whirlwind, and even though she often has tears in her eyes, she makes it through.
Simultaneously, her mother, Lydia, makes their little apartment in Echo Park feel like home, making Cuban coffee and playing music every morning. Her character brings her latinidad to the forefront in a way that reflects the pride that so many Latinx folks have in their country and in their identity. We’ve come a long way from the nuclear family being the be-all-end-all of the family sitcom. “Jane the Virgin” showed us that this kind of family works on TV. ODAAT did that too.
When I think of all the young people growing up watching TV (or streaming it), I felt so much pride in knowing that they could look up to these Latinx women and want to be as strong as Penelope and as kind-hearted and loving as Lydia. They made it cool to be fearless Latinx mothers and daughters. ODAAT gave us a new kind of Latinx family to look up to, and its cancellation pushed them out of their home, and out of ours. One can only hope they find a new place to keep the music playing.
Lory Martinez is a Colombian-American journalist and independent audio producer from Queens, NYC. Her work has appeared on NPR, Bustle, PopSugar, CNN’s Great Big Story and more. She is passionate about food and culture and makes podcasts about both. Her motto is: Everyone has a story, you just have to ask.
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