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An Open Letter To Elena Alvarez

[Warning: May contain spoilers for One Day At A Time Seasons 1 and 2)

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Dear Elena,

The first time I ever saw myself on TV, I was used more as an eye-catching prop than an actual contributor to the story. I was viewed as that one colorful centerpiece that would tie everything together, if only temporarily. I was lucky if I got to say more than a handful of words each episode. I was lucky if I wasn’t killed off by the end of the season (though I was, predictably, killed off by the end of the season. In all actual reality, all the times I’ve seen myself on TV I was watching my older self navigate through random, unreliable experiences, from complicating battle plans in a time of war, to promoting my sexuality as some high-school-girl-drama-scheme. It wasn’t until you appeared on my screen that I actually saw myself, completely and entirely represented without unneeded tragedy.

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Representation is a term that all too often falls into the unpolished hands of creators, manifests as random characters without personality, as placeholders until ratings are high enough that the producers can relax again. Thus, when I heard that One Day At A Time was being rebooted with a young Latinx girl questioning her sexuality as a main character, I was more fearful than anything else. The plot-line hit too close to home (I was sixteen at the time), and at that point just about every show I’d seen involving a main queer female character ended badly, ended in tears and hashtags and letters of apology by insincere show writers. One Day At A Time seemed harmless enough –a family show curated for a family-friendly audience. Still, it felt like I was holding my breath the entire first season of the show, waiting for something terrible to happen to the mature young character that is Elena Alvarez.

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Elena, your story is one both rare yet needed. Few producers are willing to take their chances in setting off the political time-bomb that is a young lesbian teenager on TV. But watching the show, I realized that your story is the one I needed all along. It was like I was watching myself through a clear lens. I was able to relate to each and every thought, action and fear you had as you discovered your sexuality. And throughout it all, the only thought that kept repeating in my mind was, “If only I had seen this earlier.” If only this show had come to life earlier, when I was struggling with my own identity, things might have been easier because I would’ve had someone to relate to. In a way, Elena, you’ve become sort of a companion-slash-role-model. I can only imagine how many other kids are watching you and all of a sudden finding it a little easier to breathe.

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I just wanted to thank you, Elena, for showing me that my struggles with my sexuality, my inner-fears when it comes to crushing on potentially straight girls, my reluctance to come out to friends and family, etc– thank you for showing me that all of these things are common, that they are valid; that they’re normal. The community could use more characters like you to look up to.

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With love,
Mikayla

{Authors Note: One Day At A Time is truly a life-changing show, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Season’s 1 and 2 are streaming on Netflix now.)

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