There are lots of consequences when the parents of five kids get deported. There’s the baby who loses his experienced caretakers. The middle schooler who’s lost with no sense of safety or identity at home. There are the teenagers who go through all the ups and downs of their first relationships without their parents’ guidance. There’s the eldest who doesn’t get to make the mistakes of a young man because he’s had to become the parent to four kids ages 1-16 overnight.
And, of course, it’s heartbreaking for the parents as well. Can you imagine having spent twenty-some years somewhere, building a business, a family, and a home, and having it all gone overnight? Being separated from your children, unable to help them grow and thrive? What would it do to you? How would you keep going?
These are the questions at the heart of the penultimate episode of the first season of Party of Five, “Mexico,” and the answers are not easy. The Acosta matriarch, Gloria, embodies it all. As we learn in this episode, she’s out of energy when it comes to rebooting her life yet again. When they were young, Gloria and now husband Javier left their hometown in Mexico together, leaving her family behind. Of course, she soon built her own little brood, only to be torn from them too. Now she’s nannying a little girl and her husband wants her to move again. She says no.
Gloria’s angry, like all of the Acosta women. The system is rigged against them. Val has every right to be mad at a world that pays her mother for taking care of a white girl her age (“Amanda Davis” no less) when Gloria’s forbidden from being with her own daughter. Val’s so mad, she runs away from home and tries to cross the border by herself. Then to add insult to injury, her mom spends some of this hard-earned and extremely-precious family time on the phone with her white charge. No wonder Val doesn’t want to be a “Valentina” anymore.
Meanwhile, Lucia’s mad because she’s played by the rules her whole life and it hasn’t meant anything when it comes to protecting herself or her family. Her impeccable scholastic record doesn’t keep her out of detention when she speaks up, it doesn’t keep her brother from failing physics, and it certainly doesn’t keep her family together. And things are only about to get tougher for her as she deals with her family’s presumption of heterosexuality when in reality, she’s attracted to girls. No amount of good behavior protects from sexism, racism, or homophobia and Lucia’s dealing with them all alone – at least until the rest of the Acostas figure it out.
That doesn’t seem particularly likely though as Beto and Emilio are pretty wrapped up in their own stuff. Beto can only think about his relationship with Ella, spending a lot of his time in Mexico trying to get in touch with her and leaving that heartwrenching voicemail. And Beto’s trying to write a love song with Natalia, even though he hasn’t so much as asked her out yet. With his own identity issues, Beto can only put out the many fires in front of him, like Rafa’s lead poisoning and Val’s fake name. He can’t uncover the secrets in Lucia’s heart.
Of course, Gloria might figure it out. Lucia accidentally used a feminine pronoun this episode and Gloria caught it. Plus, by all accounts, she’s the type of mom who just knows. In “Mexico,” Gloria delivers two devastating lines. The first, “Mothering is just like a muscle and if you don’t use it, it withers away,” shows how lost she is — how lost the whole Acosta family is. Without the active work of mothering and being mothered, they’re “withering,” unable to grow strong together.
Gloria’s a woman who’s defined herself through her role as a mother, which makes the second line, the one that ends the episode all the more damning: “Me convertí en tu esposa y la madre al mismo tiempo, casi semanas de diferencia. Y no sé ser una sin la otra. La verdad es que no sé si quiero ser una sin la otra. Quiero que nos tenemos de separar / I became a wife and mother at the same time – weeks apart. And I don’t know how to be one without the other. The truth is I don’t know if I want to be one without the other. I think we should separate.” The Acosta family is not all right.