What “One Day at a Time” Has Taught My Students

It’s not often that people of color find an accurate representation of ourselves on television. This is why I’m confused as to why Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” is at risk of being cancelled. “One Day at a Time” is one of the few shows that captures the Latinx experience in America, both as a first-generation and a second-generation Latinx immigrant. On top of that, “One Day at a Time” touches on such important topics like: substance abuse, PTSD, depression, anxiety, racial disparities, gentrification, single parenthood, school choice, preservation of cultural traditions, gender norms, and sexism. In my 12th grade English class, my students (all of which are people of color) spend six weeks unpacking gender norms and issues around sexism. This year, we used “Bobos and Mamitas,” the second episode of “One Day at a Time,” to analyze beauty standards for women, and sexism in the workplace.

We begin by exploring Elena’s (played by Isabella Gomez) problem. Elena’s initiative to produce less food waste at school is ignored by her classmates. Elena’s brother, Alex (played by Marcel Ruiz), suggests that students ignore her because she is too aggressive. Elena’s grandmother, Lydia (played by Rita Moreno) suggests that all she needs in order to be heard is a little bit of makeup because “Makeup makes you beautiful. Beauty gives you power.”

My students are first asked to grapple with society’s perception of a strong woman as an “aggressive” woman. The women in my classroom shared personal stories of times when their passionate appeals for change, like Elena’s, were met with resistance from both men and women who perceived their passion as aggression, and labeled them as such. They identified current politicians who daily deal with press and media that labels them as “aggressive” simply because they challenge the status quo. Afterwards, students are asked to analyze Lydia’s suggestion that “Beauty gives you power.” Students named magazines and television shows that promote false and skewed ideals of beauty. Many of my students had to face their own internalized ideals if beauty, and named it as an area of growth for themselves.

Students are then asked to consider Penelope’s (played by Justina Machado) similar issue at work. Penelope works hard to send her children, Elena and Alex, to a private Catholic school in order to give them a quality education. This kind of school choice is what most working class Latinx parents have in America. Penelope has an idea on how to improve logistics at her workplace, but her idea goes ignored. In the process, Penelope finds that her male, sexist, mansplaining co-worker makes more money than she does, even though she has been at her workplace for a longer time than him. My students are asked to research unequal pay based on gender, and they are then asked to reflect on potential contributions to the notorious wage-gap in the workplace.

This unit on gender is one of the best experiences I have with my students, and “One Day at a Time” plays such an important part in this experience. My students love watching the funny antics, but most importantly, this show provides perspectives that probe their thinking. Shows like “One Day at a Time” are necessary at a time when critical thought is scarce in entertainment, so I hope that Netflix makes the right choice in renewing this great show.

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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