Why Every Queer Latina Needs to Watch ‘One Day at a Time’

As a kid, I remember watching My So-Called Life and absolutely loving the Ricky character, a gay Latino kid who struggled with acceptance and even homelessness

Photo: Unsplash/@kellysikkema

Photo: Unsplash/@kellysikkema

As a kid, I remember watching My So-Called Life and absolutely loving the Ricky character, a gay Latino kid who struggled with acceptance and even homelessness. It was a big deal back then, but we’ve definitely come a long way. In more recent years, I got to watch the queer Latina character of Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy come out to her colleagues and her conservative Latino dad. Still, few television shows ever offer representation for queer Latinas like myself, and when they do, it’s rarely a front-and-center storyline. But this is not the case with One Day At A Time, a show that has continuously put queer (and moreover a queer Latina) storylines in the spotlight.

Other seasons of this beloved show about a Cuban-American family have included plenty of important storylines for young queer Latinas. The daughter of the family, Elena, isn’t even out till halfway through the first season. Fortunately, she is accepted by her family, even if they take a moment to adjust to the matter. Her father takes longer to come around. But the beauty of it is how they portray Elena as strong enough to defend herself to her father even if he hadn’t accepted her sexuality. It’s the kind of example I wish I had seen when I was a young girl navigating bisexual and queer identity, forced into hiding thanks to fear and shame.

Of course, if you’ve seen the first two seasons, you already know this and if you haven’t, please go watch now! Now you need to set your sights on Season 3, because ODAT seriously goes the extra mile for their queer characters in this one. In the first episode, for example, we are introduced to a slew of new characters during a family wake. One of these characters is played by none other than Brooklyn 99’s Stephanie Beatriz, who happens to be bisexual herself on and off screen. At the wake, we’re introduced to her as the Tia Pilar, who rides a motorcycle, owns seven cats, and lives in a one-bedroom with her long-term roommate Susan.

Mostly, the episode speaks to the reality that many LGBTQ+ folks have always existed in Latinx families, but do so in a quieter, more subdued way. It’s a topic rarely explored in television but immediately embraced in their season premier. Tia Pilar knows that she’s not going to change everyone’s thoughts or opinions, and quite frankly, she’s not even interested. It’s a stark contrast to Elena’s character who is very much out and proud after the end of season one, and speaks to how much things change over the course of a generation or two.

Another theme we get to explore in the show is the evolution of Elena and Syd’s relationship. They’ve been together a while now and in one scene discuss how to refer to one another, being that Syd identifies as non-binary and prefers they/them pronouns. How often do we have a main queer Latina character, much less a regularly appearing character who identifies as non-binary, on a television series? Better still is how we get to see them enjoy one another’s company, and slowly fall in love with one another.

There are still so many folks in our society who don’t understand why some people don’t fall into the gender binary, and who don’t quite get queer relationships, especially among teens. But ODAT does an excellent job at portraying this pair without tokenizing them or making any of it “strange” or tragic. Rather than a storyline about how they get bullied at school, we have a storyline about Syd continuously dropping hints about wanting Elena to take them to Benihana for Valentine’s Day. 

The most important theme explored in this season though is how to deal with the “sex talk” when your teen happens to not be heterosexual, combined with a storyline of a queer Latina losing her virginity. We’ve seen plenty of sex talks on family television shows, from Gilmore Girls, where Lane’s mom basically just advises her daughter to lie back and think of England, to the OC, where Sandy and Seth have a very awkward discussion about protection and foreplay after the fact. These talks are usually brief and visibly uncomfortable for parent and child alike. They are also nearly always about sex between people of opposite sexes getting together, often playing up the reproductive aspect, with many shows relying on a child to ask “Where do babies come from?” before the topic is broached.

One Day At A Time actually handled this topic in season one, when Penelope finds out one of her kids was watching pornography. She ends up having a general talk with her son, and then (after realizing it was actually Elena who was watching) has another talk with her daughter —at the end of which, Elena comes out to her mom. But because she came out then, Penelope didn’t even think to have a different sex talk — on how to have sex responsibly as a teenager no matter what the sex or gender of your partner.

Some of the sex talk this season relies on humor as Penelope works to figure out how to even have this conversation with her daughter. But in the end she finds a way to explain to Elena how much the first time can mean to someone emotionally, how to not be a jerk to her partner, and how to be respectful. There’s no shaming and no ridiculous talks about the importance of virginity. Even better, the scenes leading up to Elena and Syd’s first time include talks about STI testing, enthusiastic consent, and having safe words . Really, how often are teenagers portrayed discussing these things on popular television?

All in all, ODAT has once again proven that it’s not only a diverse and inclusive show, but one that truly values its LGBTQ+ audience. As a queer Latina myself, I could only dream of seeing a TV show where my experience might be highlighted. It was surprising enough to even find a bi or lesbian Latina character on any show. The first time I even started to learn anything about sex between women via a mainstream television show was thanks to The L Word, which is definitely for a more mature audience. I hope that the writers of this amazing show continue to do this important work. Queer Latinas exist, and it’s about time we finally start to see ourselves reflected on our screens.

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