Reflecting on “One Day at a Time”, a month after its cancellation

Christopher Vazquez, Digital Managing Editor

Walk into La Unica, and you’ll see remnants of a culture I left behind. Café Bustelo packed into sunshine-yellow pouches, Goya beans stuffed in tight plastic bags, “bocados” and “batidos” pictured on an oversized menu hanging above a lunch counter. Apart from my residential college and The Daily Northwestern’s newsroom, the unassuming Rogers Park market might be the place where I feel most at home in Northwestern’s periphery.

I first learned about La Unica from my father, who had emailed the Cuban American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois during my first quarter at Northwestern to ask where I could buy Cuban food. Their answer: go to La Unica, which literally translates to “the only one.”

There were two problems with that answer: I didn’t always want to make the snowy trek down to Rogers Park for a quick meal, and it was never just about the food. When I got into Northwestern, one of my father’s main concerns was the isolation I would feel moving to Evanston from Miami, a city heavily populated by Cuban Americans like myself.

In the beginning, I was skeptical it would even be an issue. But as I navigated my way through my first quarter at Northwestern, I found myself surprised by how I found solace in taking classes with Latinx professors, the joy I felt in speaking Spanish with Latinx friends, how easily a craving for “bistec empanizado” or a memory of my parents saying a Spanish phrase could spiral into a kind of homesickness and loneliness I had never known before.

Luckily, I found a remedy that didn’t require a trip across Evanston. The second season of “One Day at a Time” premiered on January 26, 2018 — 18 days after the winter quarter of my freshman year began.

I found the first episode underwhelming.

“Very CBS,” I remember texting a teacher from high school who had recommended the show to me, the laugh track and multi-camera setup leaving me unimpressed. Still, the sitcom and I had an unspoken tradeoff. Make me feel at home and I’ll work with you.

How do you go from being completely immersed in your culture to being completely bereft of it? As my relationship with the show evolved to genuine enjoyment, that’s the question I began asking.

My answer: log into Netflix and watch “One Day at a Time.” Listen to characters drift between languages the way your family does, and happily translate for friends watching with you. Chuckle at the immature little brother who resembles a chunk of the boys you went to high school with, and at the culturally appropriative neighbor who resembles a chunk of the people you now go to college with. Listen to Rita Moreno’s character describe what it was like immigrating to the U.S. through Operation Pedro Pan — a program that brought unaccompanied Cuban children to the country in the 1960s — and cry.

Cry because you’ve never heard the Pedro Pan kids mentioned on a national TV show. Cry because you didn’t even know you didn’t feel seen until now. Cry because a scarcity of Cubans is harder to deal with than you thought it would be, and this is softening the blow more than you thought it could.

On March 14, Netflix cancelled “One Day at a Time.” So I did what any self-respecting Latino Gen Zer would do: turned to Twitter.

I began by quote tweeting the news and threatening any “Americano” who dared approach me in this trying time, then calmed down and tweeted a quote from a thoughtful column about its cancellation. Before long, I got fired up again and blamed the people who rallied behind Friends, then ended my tirade by poking some fun at myself: “Embracing my new brand as a posthumous ‘One Day at a Time’ stan account looking for blood.” I remember tweeting this four-part manifesto 280 characters at a time from the ground floor of Norris — not caring if others thought I was unhinged — because Netflix had just closed my magic portal home.

Now, a month later, I’m not looking for blood, I’m looking for answers. Only 22 Latinx shows have been picked up since the year 2000, according to the National Hispanic Media Coalition. The Coalition also claimed that of those 22, “One Day at a Time” is the highest rated based on available Rotten Tomato scores. Despite this, the show regularly had to fight for its renewal. I remember asking everyone on The Daily’s listerv last year to watch at least four episodes of the show when the fight for a third season was already on, less than a month after the second season’s release.

Although Netflix claims that not enough people were watching the show to continue its distribution, the company won’t release those numbers. CBS All Access has reportedly expressed interest in picking up the show, but Netflix’s contract with Sony Pictures Television does not allow the platform to relinquish the show to other streaming services for two to three years, despite its refusal to go forward with a fourth season. And for the thousands of accounts tweeting #SaveODAAT, that could mean years of waiting before the show even has a shot at being saved.

How do you go from being completely immersed in your culture to being completely bereft of it? It’s a question I still find myself asking. You watch episodes of “One Day at a Time” you’ve already seen. You let it make you feel at home and safe and comforted — but not too comforted, because nothing more is coming. More likely than not, this is all you’re gonna get.

It’s “la unica” — the only one.

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Twitter: @bychrisvazquez