Look, it’s 2019 and by now everyone should know why representation matters. But if I must, I’ll tell it like it is: when you’re not represented in media, it doesn’t feel like you’re ever being seen.
Yes, as blunt as that sounds, not seeing people like us depicted in mainstream media does affect the way we perceive ourselves. That’s why there are so many misconceptions about the LGBTQ+, Black, Latinx, Asian, Muslim communities and many more, because of how we are presented in the media.
Most white people don’t feel like this (especially white men) as there are many films, TV shows and stories that are geared towards them. Therefore, they see themselves reflected on-screen regularly. Now, while I’ve had many, many discussions about this topic (to the point that I’m tired of people not wanting to understand), the truth is that shows like One Day At A Time help in this battle against misunderstanding and hate.
I grew up in Mexico, and while in my early childhood I did not understand what being underrepresented meant because most of the media I consumed was made by people who looked and acted like me, it was when I went to another country that I finally understood what many people have been seeing as it pertained to Mexican people and culture; it was hateful.
Due to the content of many films and various series, people have this belief that Mexico is this desert where charros are around the corner, we eat tacos all the time and wear big sombreros, and speak really funny, or we’re rapists, murderers, drug dealers, or the bad guys, and while those things aren’t entirely untrue (check the news), my country, my people, are so, so, much more than that. We can be good, we can be noble, we have a great heart.
I’ve been made fun because of my accent, making me feel ashamed of it and try to hide it as much as I can. I’ve been told that because I’m Mexican, that means I’m dangerous and cannot enter some places because I’ll “make a mess”. That if I’m in another country, it must be because I crossed borders illegally. That being Mexican should be something I should be ashamed of. That I’m not white enough to be a Disney Princess, or a hero in a galaxy far, far away.
But the media doesn’t care about that.
They believe Latinx people to be the butt of their jokes, the sidekick for laughs, the dumb ones, the ones that gets killed, the bad guys that need to be defeated. You have no idea what it meant to me to see Diego Luna AS A MAIN CHARACTER in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, speaking with his thick Mexican accent and being alive (and on the screen) for more than 20 minutes.
For a moment, I believed that I could do anything that I set my mind too and all because I saw this man talking and speaking like me, and above all not being ashamed of it.
So, when Netflix presented the public with a reboot of One Day At A Time which featured Latinx representation, I was on cloud nine. I not only felt myself represented, but also what it’s like to grow up in a Latinx family, with the love, the pressure, the laughs, the tears and everything in between. I thought that if more people saw this show, they would stop having so many misconceptions about my culture, my family, my life.
Yes, they were Cuban and I’m Mexican, but we’re Latinos, and while there are cultural differences between our countries (because there are, in case you didn’t know), as a Latina, I was excited to see more people like me having a spot in mainstream media, for people to see a glimpse of what being Latinx really means. I was thrilled to think that somewhere out there was a little kid like the one I used to be watching this show and realizing that is more than okay to be proud of your heritage and roots, that having a thick accent (like Abuelita) is nothing to be ashamed of, and that she can do anything she sets her mind to (like Elena) and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But that’s not all, as this show tackles issues most television programs have a hard time grasping or talking about without being misinformed. How many sitcoms or shows have you seen where depression and anxiety are acknowledged – not as a problem that makes you weak, but as something that most of us have to deal with our entire lives and, if managed, can be less overbearing? When has a character with depression in another show being shown as strong, especially as the main lead? More often than not, they’re depicted as one of the more fragile characters.
We have another main character, a teenage girl, who decided to come out as gay to be true to herself, even when she was afraid that her very religious Abuelita would react negatively, (which, by the way, she destroyed the whole “God doesn’t like gay people” argument in like 16 seconds), whose father rejected her because of it, but that only made her stronger and more confident of who she is, who has a Syd-nificant other whose as nerdy as she is, and that’s okay.
We have a family that gets harassed for being Latino, women that are not immune to sexual harassment, a man battling his substance abuse problems while being loved and supported through his struggles, a grandma that struggles with the misconceptions of her time, but tries her best to be there for her family.
Yes, this matters to Latinx people, but it should also matter to everyone out there, regardless of the colour of their skin, or the country they come from because everyone needs to feel like that there’s a loving family out there like the Alvarezes who will accept us no matter what. Not many of us have that, but seeing this on TV makes our hearts a little warmer at the thought of such a reality really existing.
However, this morning Netflix decided to cancel One Day At A Time, due to low viewership (a.k.a. not many people watching/streaming the show), and while I certainly want to blame Netflix for not promoting the show more (in my country not many people even know this show exists), the truth is that the blame is, in part, on all of us.
WE are the ones that need to show big production companies why representation matters. Yes, it should be their jobs, but sadly that’s not the world we live in. We are the ones who, no matter who we are, need to watch films like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, or Aquaman (with a biracial lead) where minorities are being represented.
In the battle for representation, all minorities (which in reality we’re the majority of the world population, another misconception media has imprinted on our brains) should support one another, to show the world that not only do these stories matter, but people want to see them, hear them, know more about others.
Media helps us learn about other cultures, other people, but if there’s a misconception in the way they’re presented… can we truly learn and empathize with one another?
Please, please, from the bottom of my heart as a Latina girl who grew up thinking she would never be enough in another country, I’m asking you, help us make Netflix realize what a huge mistake they made by cancelling a show that matters to so many people.
We need more shows like this.
Stop watching Friends for the millionth time and please give One Day At A Time one chance, I’m sure you won’t regret it!