One Day at a Time and the many ways to be Latina
The sitcom offers a complex and funny look at ethnicity, gender, and faith.
A few minutes into the third episode of Netflix’s serial comedy One Day at a Time, a heated family discussion takes place on the importance of religion for the three generations of the Alvarez family. The central character, Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), wants to go for a hike on Sunday and thinks it would be a good family bonding event. But that would mean skipping church. Her Cuban-born, fervently Catholic mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), insists they go to church. She underscores the importance of church by telling a story about her Great Uncle Recito, who once skipped church and on the same day was crushed by a runaway tractor.
Meanwhile, 12-year-old Alex (Marcel Ruiz), the darling of his grandmother’s affections, likes church because there “I see my friends. I eat some donuts.” Fourteen-year-old Elena (Isabella Gomez) intellectually pokes at her grandmother’s faith, asking if she really believes she’s eating the flesh and blood of Jesus during communion. Lydia responds, “Ay! No, it’s a symbol. Don’t be gross!” When Penelope claims that that makes her a Protestant, Lydia retorts, “There is no need for name calling!”
It is rare enough that a television show offers us a complex and funny take on church and theology. The writers of One Day at a Time give us an unexpected romp into the dynamics of family and faith, often packed into hilarious three-minute scenes. An added benefit is that the voices in the show are those of Latinas, whose life experiences are rarely approached with any complexity in popular culture representations.