How Shows Like 'One Day At a Time' Bring Awareness to Latinx Issues

In an ACLU-sponsored panel at ATX Television Festival, creators Gloria Calderon Kellett, Tanya Saracho and Mauricio Mota discussed how their series help ensure authentic representation of current issues on television.
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Tanya Saracho

Storytelling can be a powerful tool.

In a world where the president calls immigrants "animals," where some people get their news from single sources, showrunners like One Day at a Time creator Gloria Calderon Kellett, Vida creator Tanya Saracho and East Los High creator Mauricio Mota are now more than ever making sure that their series help ensure authentic representation of current issues on television and inspire audiences to take action about said issues.

In a discussion at ATX Television Festival moderated by ACLU Immigration Advocacy Leader Lorella Praeli, the trio explained how they're trying to humanize certain issues by bringing visibility to them — particularly immigration.

While Latinx audiences comprise one in four moviegoers and nearly 20 percent of the country, their stories are nearly invisible on television and have been for a while — but that's changing.

"What excites me is we are demanding a change and we are saying we want to be seen," said Kellett.

Said Saracho, "Our job is to humanize, to invite to your living room and your kitchen to say we are human like you. It's about humanity. It's about adding flesh to the bones, because for so long we've not been fully-fleshed human beings."

That includes telling different types of stories — East Los High is a high school drama, Vida tells a strong queer narrative and One Day at a Time is a family sitcom — and through those varied stories, bringing awareness to issues (and specifically immigration) and then a call to action.

Said Mota, "Awareness is great, but the moment we live in now [requires action]."

Mota recalled a storyline in his series where an undocumented character downloaded an app that he could use to alert his family members if he were picked up by ICE — a real app. It served two purposes: to let some audience members know that this was such a dire issue for some people that it did require an app like this, and to inform undocumented audience members that a resource like that existed for them.

Right now, shows about people of color are extreme outliers in the television landscape. So creators like Kellett, Saracho and Mota have to focus on bringing attention to these issues while showing some audience members that families of color are just like theirs. One day, they won't have to strive to do that, but until then, Mota said, "we're so far from normalizing because we're humanizing first."