By Marguerite Jill Dye
“I’ve been busy all my life – why stop now?” said Norman Lear with a grin at age 94. The legendary sitcom producer helped advance America in recognizing and confronting sexism, racism, and bigotry through humor. He started the conversation by daring to produce his avant-garde societal comedy-critiques. “All in the Family,” The Jeffersons,” “Maude,” and “One Day at a Time,” about a divorced single mom raising her two teenage daughters. It might not seem groundbreaking now, but in the mid-1970s, it was revolutionary.
I’m happy to report that Norman Lear is back with another whammy: an updated Latino version of “One Day at a Time” on Netflix. Like its predecessor on CBS, it deals with uncomfortable, critical, contemporary issues such as veterans’ challenges (like PTSD), mental illness, teen choices, ageism, sexism, and women in the workplace, all through the lives of a loving and funny Cuban-American family.
“It’s classic Norman Lear. It has a lot of heart and it makes you think,” said Justina Machado, who stars as the awesome mother and veteran with two endearing, challenging kids.
Rita Moreno, now 88, born in Puerto Rico, is thrilled to play the hysterically funny, energetic grandmother. She is thrilled because a show centered on a Latino family has been long-awaited.
“Growing up, that seemed unattainable. You just didn’t see it,” Moreno said. “All these years later, it’s not like we are the first show to have a Latino family, but there are so few out today – that doesn’t make any sense when you look at the demographics in the U.S.”
The series explores the Cuban American experience, with political references to Cuban exile as it relates to immigration. A second season will dig more deeply into the controversial, diverse feelings through the window of comedy.
The writing staff, half female and half Latino, of “One Day at a Time” invited veterans to share their family and personal PTSD experiences. Show co-runner Gloria Calderon Kellett’s parents also described their experience with Operation Peter Pan, the mass political exodus of Cuban children to the U.S. in the early ‘60s.
Recent NAACP Award nominations heartened Calderon, who said, “It made me feel so hopeful for the future of other minorities in this country and having their stories told… To be a part of a show that obviously speaks to my journey in this country is really meaningful, and I hope starts . . . a wave so that there are more. So that we see our similarities more than our differences.”
Lear sees commonality as the show’s main message, and was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying, “We are all versions of one another. So, to see lots of television and not the version that represents you the best is deeply unsatisfying. Whether a Latino family or African American family or a Jewish family, we all go through the same experiences as humans and as a species.”
“Migration is the human story,” veteran journalist, professor, and Rutland author Yvonne Daley said. “I am an immigrant to Vermont and have lived here since 1967.” (Her arrival then helped inspire her most recent book: “Going Up the Country: When the Hippies, Dreamers, Freaks and Radicals Moved to Vermont,” which we highly recommend.)
“I’m the daughter of American immigrants. I’m the granddaughter, great granddaughter, great great granddaughter of American immigrants. My family has been coming here since the 1700s from different places. My mother came here when she was 17.”
“If there weren’t places that were overpopulated, where there wasn’t enough food and water and people were hurting, people wouldn’t migrate,” she explained. “And frankly, we have a lot to share. Why are we so selfish? We stole California and Texas from the Mexicans. We had a war and won. Read ‘Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Rivals of North America’ by Colin Woodard about who settled where. Educate yourself. Spaniards and Mexicans have been in parts of our country long before my ancestors. ‘American Nations’ traces all the different parts of our country and how the first settlers imprinted a region in ways that continue today. Migration is the human story.”
Walls, cages, separation and heartbreak, suffering and even death will not end it. Only peace, not brutality and genocide; justice, not discrimination and targeting; shelter, not exile and homelessness; food, not famine and poverty; water, not drought and pollution; and an acceptable level of health and wellbeing instead of suffering and lack of care, may end peoples’ flight due to unbearable daily circumstances.
Watching the show is fun and compelling. The characters are so likable and real that Duane and I watch it for light pause. Yet it always unveils real issues to discuss through the microcosm of a caring family. It shows us the commonality of our humanity and the value of our vast diversity due to human migration, a natural part of our global history.
In fact, we are all immigrants. It’s only a matter of when we arrived. Let’s embrace our rich diversity. Let’s celebrate our magnificent pluralism. Let’s treat all arrivals, from now and before, with more respect, compassion, and heart.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.