Imagine catching your reflection in a darkened window — you have a baby on your hip, another kid at your side, and an apron around your waist. Your hair is up because you’re cooking your mom’s menudo. You might freak out, right? Particularly if you’re just 16 and want a life dramatically different from your mother’s.
That’s what happens to Lucia on Party of Five’s fourth episode, “Authentic Mexican.” She explains “it’s about not wanting to be Mami. I don’t want to be good at the things that she’s good at because what if that’s all I’m good at?” Lucia wants something different for herself and I get it, even as much as I admire my own mom. The Acosta mom is a caretaker and Lucia is not and doesn’t particularly want to be. In the recap, we see Lucia say again, “I don’t know how to raise a baby or be a parent to a twelve-year-old!” In this episode, she declares, “I know how to argue with people. It’s one of my many skills.” Later, she’s pumped that the rich white guy who tried to swindle her tells her she should be a lawyer. She values the confrontational aspects of her personality more than the nurturing and I for one love seeing her contribute to her family through her spitfire ways.
Unfortunately, little sister Val doesn’t need that fire right now. She needs her mom. So after Lucia gets away from her reflection, it’s Beto who ends us wrapping Val in his arms, figuring out a way to comfort her. Lucia is too wrapped up in her own stuff, too worried she’ll be confined to her mother’s destiny.
And she’s not the only one. Emilio is also worried he’s turning into his dad. After all, he is running his dad’s restaurants, living in his dad’s house, and raising his dad’s kids. He spends the episode trying to forge his own path, which in this case means taking a catering gig to see if it’s a good way to make the business his own. It’s not.
The clients turn out to be rich, racist white people who hate each other and can’t recognize a fellow human being in any of the “help.” They demand the staff wear ridiculous ponchos and even a sombrero (Beto: “Isn’t it kind of racist? You don’t think it’s weird that white people are asking us to dress up in Mexican costumes?” Yes, Beto, we do) and lose their shit when Beto’s caught kissing a guest (angry white guy: “I want to see you fire him… That you’re going to make sure he learns his lesson before you drop him off on whatever street corner you found him.” Yikes! That ish is crazy).
In his bid for self-determination, Emilio makes a bunch of wrong decisions. The catering gig is a bust and he suffers a bunch of indignities along the way, before finally standing up for himself and his family (Emilio: “As long as I’m around no one talks to my brother that way. No one.”) And while those decisions are not great, it’s his final conversation with Vanessa that’s the big mistake. In a heartwrenching scene, he dumps her because he feels like he’s settling for too much in life and she’s the only thing he can change. We all know he’s going to regret it.
I mean Emilio and Vanessa started off the episode so cute, modeling a healthy conversation around sex. Out of condoms, Emilio asks if they can just rely on her birth control. Vanessa says yes IF they get tested and agree to be exclusive. It’s exactly the sort of negotiation we all should be having and it was great to see an example on TV, laid out so plainly. Sadly, Vanessa and Emilio’s relationship is over about as soon it began, thanks to the specter of becoming his dad. Let us hope that in real life, we all escape the ghosts of our parents’ decisions more easily than the Acosta kids.