A Tale of Two Quinces: How One Day at a Time Blends Tradition and Modernity

Actress Justina Machado plays Penelope Alvarez on the Netflix remake of "One Day at a Time"

One Day at a Time is about a Latino family…Oh wait, you thought I was talking about that show from the seventies about a single mother raising her daughter? Well I am. Sort of. The Netflix reboot of One Day at a Time (ODAAT) tells the story of Penelope Alvarez, an army vet, current nurse, and single mother who shares the screen with her two children and her mother. I must admit I was skeptical of the sitcom at first. The show is marketed more to tweens and I wasn't sure it would be interesting or worthwhile. However, I was dead wrong. One Day at a Time does a great job of looking at current social issues in meaningful ways, and teaching lessons without being cheesy.

In the first episode, Penelope and her mother are trying to convince Penelope’s daughter Elena to have a quinceanera. Elena is opposed to the tradition because she feels it’s a sexist tradition. This causes Penelope and Elena to get into a huge fight about tradition versus modernity. In a particularly funny moment, the pair engage in Elena’s specialty, a Lincoln-Douglas style debate in which they argue the opposing point. Like I spoke about in another post, it’s often difficult to reconcile traditions with feminism, and ODAAT does a great job of showing both sides of this divide. Elena can’t imagine why anyone would have a quinceanera, while Penelope and her mother Lydia can't imagine why anyone wouldn't. It’s not until they’re able to step into each other’s shoes that Penelope and Elena begin to compromise. Elena agrees to a quinceanera, and Penelope agrees to forgo some of the aspects Elena finds unsavory. This is a great example of how sometimes all it takes is a little understanding and flexibility to merge more traditional things with modern and feminist sensibilities.

ODAAT also deals directly with sexism in an episode entitled “Bobos and Mamitas.” Penelope and Elena are both dealing with sexism, at work and school, respectively. Penelope's colleague is a mansplainer who has the boss wrapped around his finger, and Elena’s composting initiative is ignored by the boys at school because she’s a girl. At first Penelope doesn't believe she’s a victim of sexism, and tells a story from her military days in which she was so strong that the men began to see her as a man also. Lydia and Elena find this awful for different reasons. Elena from a feminist perspective, and Lydia because she believes men and women have different roles and shouldn't be the same.

Penelope tries to ignore the sexism and rise above, but her co-worker takes her ideas, and in the process Penelope finds out that he’s being paid more than her even though he’s been there for less time. She realizes that ignoring sexism doesn't make it go away, and quits her job out of anger. This turns out to be a powerful statement, because her boss then promises to pay her equally if she returns.

I really liked how Penelope could stand up for her rights and win against sexism. However, Elena’s storyline was less satisfactory. Lydia suggests that Elena get a makeover so the boys will respect her. Elena reluctantly agrees, and to her dismay the boys do start to like her more. Later though, Lydia and Elena get into a fight because Elena accuses Lydia of using makeup as a mask. In the middle of the night, Lydia shows Elena her face without makeup as a peace offering. This could have been an opportunity to further develop Lydia’s character, and her relationship with Elena, however the moment is lost when Elena discovers that Lydia is still wearing mascara. What could have been a poignant moment, and perhaps another lesson about blending the traditional with the modern, was undermined by a one-off joke that wasn't very funny.

That said, One Day at a Time does an amazing job of showing how to respectfully argue with each other. The women don’t often agree with each other, and yet they’re always able to see the other’s point of view and compromise. Especially in the current political climate, we should look to them as examples for our own lives. In addition, we need this feminist show in a time when minority voices are often silenced. Besides coming from a feminist point of view, this show also features a family that’s unapologetically Latino, and this combination sends a message to viewers that all women, not just white women, are forces to be reckoned with. As a feminist, I’m grateful to have a show that caters to my beliefs, and in an unquestionably intersectional way. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Ronkin, Katy. " A Tale of Two Quinces: How One Day at a Time Blends Tradition and Modernity." 5 April 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/tale-of-two-quinces-how-one-day-at-time-blends-tradition-and-modernity>.

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