When liberal multicultural politics continue to dominate film, TV, and other media, we miss the people and issues both “at the margin and at the center.”
People across the United States continue to make a fuss over the cancellation of Netflix’s Cuban-American remake of Whitney Blake and Allan Maning’s One Day at a Time (or ODAAT), celebrating the show for its “punchy one-liners” and “approaching almost every character in merry good faith.” The show discusses issues of mental health, gender and sexuality, substance ab/use, immigration, racism, and even gentrification, often in evocative ways that many feel have few comparisons in present-day film and TV. Nonetheless, ODAAT fell short in numerous regards, and despite (or perhaps, indicative of) support from “progressive celebrities,” these issues should be highlighted as they are emblematic of broader problems with the politics of representation in popular shows and movies today.
From the start, the Alvarez family members, led by mother Penelope (played by Justina Machado) and her mother Lydia (played by Rita Moreno),
Janel Martinez, multimedia journalist and creator of the popular Afro-Latina digital space Ain’t I Latina?, took to Twitter to voice how unrelatable the show was for her, expressing this problem should not be portrayed as a mere oversight but as an intentional action. ODAAT had no obviously Afro-Latinx relatives as main characters and almost no Afro-Latinx representation at all, as previously noted. With the growing movement in support of broader Latinx representation from outlets like Ain’t I Latina?, Blactina, and HipLatina, the logics of these actions must be interrogated because they are often replicated in story framings and characters’ lines.
For instance, in Season 2, Episode 1 “The Turn,” Moreno’s (who is a white Puerto Rican woman) character, in response to granddaughter Elena’s “struggle” with being “perceived” as white (she’s a white Colombian y
The fact that Lydia’s characterization of Cuba goes relatively unchallenged speaks to the continuing hegemonic narrative of U.S.-based white Cubans— largely conservative Republicans— who left the island and its majority Black populace to seek “refuge” in Miami and other U.S. cities during the Cuban Revolution. As members of the island’s capitalist and land-owning classes, these white Cubans, faced with the seizure and redistribution of their land and wealth after the eventual deposal of U.S.-backed right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista, would not benefit from the revolutionary transformation of Cuba that paved the way for greater social, racial, political, and economic justice and equality. Yet we are continually made to believe that the depictions of Latinxs in U.S. film and TV, like those in ODAAT, are actually representing the “diverse” experiences of Latinxs when actually, as we see through this U.S.-
While much can be said about ODAAT’s coverage of crucial social and political topics, its portrayal as a show that speaks to Latinxs and about the experiences of Latinx families is, at best, misleading. With expanding genres, outlets, writings, and media focused on the diverse class, racial, cultural, linguistic, political, and geographic dimensions of Latinxs, understanding ODAAT as a very narrow slice of this community is important when describing its role in Latinx media portrayals more broadly. For many marginalized Latinxs— poor, peasant, Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ folks at the center of our people’s histories and revolutionary struggles— it is unacceptable to go along with mainstream liberal multicultural politics of representation that promote only specific kinds of Latinx representation and encourage the rest of us to support these simplified narratives “for representation’s sake.” Our stories are out there and it’s time we build the people power behind their dissemination that our ancestors, our communities deserve.