accepting fat

I am fat.

Which means that I care a lot about how fat people are treated and what it means to be fat. But I don’t talk about it very much because I get so irritated by the online fat acceptance narratives. You’ve probably heard of some of them, the biggest one being, that you can have ‘health at any size.’ I don’t have a problem with the concept behind so many discussions on fat acceptance. I agree that you can have health at any size, body shaming is disgusting and harmful, and ‘concern trolling’ fat people (I’m just worried about you!) is being a condescending asshole at worst and very problematic at best.

But how so many of these critiques actually play out in the real world among fat acceptance folks…they bother me. One critique in particular.

But let me back up. In the past few months, I became aware of two things. The first is that after living my whole life thinking I was lazy, and thus fat (and in so much pain because I was lazy and thus fat), it turns out I have an autoimmune illness. In other words, my body is attacking itself. And because I’ve gone undiagnosed for so long, my body has been attacking itself for decades, leaving me very ill. It is this illness that has made me ‘lazy’ or: exhausted from living in a constant state of flare up and my body falling apart.

The second thing I became aware of is about sugar and the effects that sugar can have on the body. I came across this article, and then I started checking out books and researching other authors–and it all just sort of came together for me.

Sugar pushes the body into a state of inflammation. My autoimmune illness is exacerbated by chronic inflammation. And then to make things even worse, highly processed foods are filled with sugar that increases inflammation. I’ve been poor most of my life–my diet reflected that.

Finding out about how sugar and highly processed food interact with autoimmune illness (makes it way worse), brought up a lot of feelings in me. I’ve spent so long punishing myself. Self-medicating through flare ups by abusing myself, calling myself lazy, worthless, disgusting. Nobody ever told me that ‘self-medicating’ could be violent. In the justice communities I run with ‘self-medicating’ is taking your health into your own hands, learning about herbs to deal with stress, exercising to deal with depression, etc. It never crossed my mind that me treating myself the way I did was abuse or that it was what I did to function daily. To force myself up when I just couldn’t go anymore. It never occurred to me that self-abuse could be a way to survive.

So I talked a bit about what I was learning on twitter. And I realize that twitter isn’t often the best place to talk about stuff–but I didn’t really feel up to taking on an essay yet. And the response was largely positive. But eventually as my tweets started making their way out of my own circle–a handful of responses began trickling in. The kind from the fat acceptance crowd that makes me so angry. The kind where your own life experiences and theorizing about your fat body are taken as an ‘attack’ on their fat bodies, where you saying ‘acceptance’ isn’t enough, must mean that you’re actually filled with internalized self hatred rather than filled with a fierce desire to be visible in world that would rather see you dead.

For so many of us, our fat cannot be separated from our race, our class, our gender or sexuality. I accept my body at any size and I want a world that will accept me at any size. But at the same time, I am fat because of my race, because of my class. Because of my chronic illness.

Chicana scholars, Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel have long talked about the phenomenon of Mexican people having healthy body weight and no diabetes or heart issues when they live in Mexico eating traditional Mexican diets. And then they move to the US and they start eating highly processed food, or food that passes as Mexican in the United States; Deep fried food that’s saturated with high fat sour cream, heavy cheese and lots of meat. That’s when all those healthy Mexicans become obese. When all the food related illness take hold and don’t let go. And that’s when all the 45 Fans get pissed. Fat Mexicans choosing to be fat take resources that belong to Americans. Fat Mexican anchor babies stealing what belongs to real Americans. Fat Mexican bodies are a threat to US national security.

You cannot separate the fatness of a Mexican body from the Mexicanness.  And you cannot accept the fatness without understanding that the fatness is an act of violence against Mexican bodies. Fatness speaks to an active violence perpetrated against Mexican bodies by an unhealthy violent food system intent intent on profit over health on every single level. It speaks to 500 years of colonization. It speaks to criminalization. Cheap sugar, starvation.

It speaks to something that has been done to our bodies, collectively. And if the fat acceptance movement can’t find a way to except these complicated truths about the bodies of so many fat people, then it’s not a theory worth even holding onto.

One of the most compelling things I learned about how sugar affects our bodies is what happens to obese mothers and their starving children. The kids who are starving or food insecure are obviously food insecure. They are what we expect food insecure people to look like. They are thin, listless, their eyes are sunk their skulls.

Obese mothers, on the other hand, have people look at them like with all the shame and nastiness that we are used to looking at fat people with. Overweight mothers who have starving children are understood as selfish, out of control, lazy, disgusting. But these mothers are starving as well. They’re eating highly processed cheap food that they can afford or that they get through food pantries. The sugar makes their body hoard fat, even while it saves absolutely nothing nutritious. And it leaves them ravenous once the placeholder in their bellies moves out.

They’re starving. But we’ve never understood fatness to be starving. And culturally we’d rather understand mothers as selfish slobs than with compassion. We depend on having mother’s to blame for all the social ills out there so we never have to fund fixing those social ills.

I read about skinny children/fat mothers and I thought of my Mexican childhood and how hungry I always was. I thought of my Mexican teens and how much I loved the flour tortillas made fresh daily by adults. I had no idea that flour tortillas (made from cheap highly processed white flour) replaced the more nutritious corn tortillas my grandparents ate, their grandparents ate. I thought about my life as a Mexican mother. Not eating so my children could eat, eating off the dollar menu because it was the only thing I’d eat that day and I needed to feel full. I continued the traditions of my family, my culture. I bought flour tortillas because they were the cheapest. I ate processed foods because they were affordable. Food made ‘traditional’ through poverty.

I’ve hated myself from the time I understood the supposed link between ‘individual choice’ and ‘fatness.’ But now I look back and I understand what was going on. I was literally starving. I couldn’t stop eating because my body never got what it needed. Filling up your stomach isn’t the same thing as nourishing your body. Me being fat is the way violence enacted against me played out. The violence of starvation.

I need so much more to understand this violence than a lens of acceptance. Acceptance is the color blind way of explaining something we don’t really want to or think we don’t need to talk about. But really, there’s only a few groups of people that honestly don’t need to talk about it. It just so happens that those groups are given the biggest platforms to speak.

I want to talk about it. I want to talk about why I was the fat starving mother, and I want to talk about why I was abusing myself so I could live.

I don’t need fat acceptance.

I need a radical love which allows me to re-claim my body from a capitalistic system intent on destroying it by any means necessary. I need a radical way of loving my body even when I don’t accept it.  I need a radical way of understanding what has happened to me, whether it’s the violence of poverty, criminalization or starvation.

Reclaiming my body will look a lot different than self acceptance. It may start with self acceptance it may even end with self acceptance. But self acceptance isn’t all of it. When something has been done to our bodies, we have the right to question it. And we have the right to love our bodies, but not accept the violence that’s been done to them. And I don’t accept that violence. I don’t.

I am reminded of a rallying call during the Detroit water crisis; it’s not your fault but it is your fight. This makes more sense to me, feels like the right way to begin understanding my body. It’s not my fault but it is my fight. My body belongs to me. And I will fight for it.

and then it gets worse

I’ve tried think of a way to say this, eloquently, dignified. But then I break into the crying and it won’t stop, not even when my mouth stretches wide open, no sound coming out but ugly squeaking, saliva dripping out like thin strands of mucus.

My partner lost his job. He lost his job exactly one month before I am set to lose mine. My contract wraps up, and with the political climate being what it is, there’s next to nothing to move on to.

It was going to be hard for us to navigate living on just one income. I have been lining up part time work and side jobs. And we were going to be ok. It’d be hard, but we’d be ok.

Then the news came. We live in Michigan, and the news comes all the time for all people.

I’ve got a kid who just had major reconstructive surgery and is in physical therapy. I am being treated for auto-immune illness. We don’t have insurance anymore.  We live in Michigan, this happens all the time.

The day after we found out, I looked on the website of my kid’s school to find out about the free lunch program. We are a family that was living pay check to pay check. No more paycheck means no more food. Food insecurity is a fact of life in Michigan. Entire school districts are on free lunch programs because this is Michigan. Pink slips are a fact of life.

That very same day that I looked for information on the free lunch program, news that Betsy DeVos wants to get rid of the free lunch program dinged all over my social media. The level of vindictiveness. The level pure vile evilness. What kind of God allows it?

Politicians in Michigan implemented a drug testing policy for welfare recipients. Because they don’t want food money going to parents, who apparently use the money meant for food for children to buy drugs. They don’t. But politicians spend a lot of time trying to convince us they do.

But at the same time, the most direct way to feed hungry children without parent interference is through the free lunch program.

And they want to end it.

They want our children to go hungry.

The ugly cry, the ugly tears. They won’t stop.

We’ll be ok. We always are, someway, somehow. We don’t need health insurance to live, like some people do. We have degrees, we have work history.

But when you go off on how ‘glad’ you are that 45 is in charge, how pleased you are that he’s going to ‘shake things up,’ when you ask me to ‘give him a fair chance,’ please know that I’m fighting too hard for my own chance to survive to worry about giving him a chance. Please understand the bile I spit could’ve landed on you.

We’ve spent months since the election speculating on how to treat 45’s supporters. Nobody has bothered to ask those who will die without insurance how they’re doing or what they’re going to do. Nobody has asked about how the kids with no insurance to cover their therapy will manage. Nobody has explained how parents will feed their children.

Michigan is going to be the way of life for everybody now. And we’re so busy worrying about those who want it like that, we forgot to ask about how those who are busy trying to survive are doing. We forgot ask our neighbor’s what they need. If they’re ok. Or maybe we just don’t give a fuck anymore.

There’s nothing eloquent or dignified to say about being terrified of hunger. Of not surviving. Of seeing you’re kids suffer.

So I cry. Hot thick wide mouth ugly cry.




Surviving the war years 1

So how do you keep going when it’s the war years? I’m tired of the only answers that question being connected to organizing, so I decided to write up something that centers ‘taking care of yourself’ that doesn’t dare to presume what you’ll be doing once you’ve taken care of yourself.

    • One of the worst things that happened post-election was that there was just no escaping 45. No matter where I was at or what I was doing, the conversation inevitably flipped to 45, and either fighting or angry bitch sessions started. Don’t even get me started on social media. It’s hard to escape 45 for a few minutes and get yourself centered again when he’s tweeting ever 32 minutes. So what I’ve done is block his name on every social media site that I can. Trust, I still find out about what he’s doing anyway, but not having to deal with it every single time I breath has been helpful. What I do to ‘catch up’ is check the website, What the Fuck Just Happened, Today. There are daily wrap ups of what happened that day and even helpful links as to contextualize what the fuck just happened. I feel more in control of my space (no more 45 invasion!) and I only have to be officially pissed off once a day.
    • I’ve been going on walks. Lots of them. This clears my head and helps me to remember the universe is bigger than the mess we’re facing right now. And because we’re the universe, we are bigger than the mess too. It doesn’t help me to understand or figure out what the hell we’re going to do–but it calms me down. There are other people who don’t know what the hell we’re going to do either. I’m not alone. None of us are.
    • I have bitch sessions. I’ve learned that I can’t spend all my time doing this because then I just get mad and upset because it all feels circular and it reminds me that none of us know what the hell we’re going to do. But having a good clean bitch session with a friend that knows the right point to end it and knows the laughter is as much a part of a bitch session as being angry is–it’s pure relief.
    • I’ve meditated. A lot. Of course the fear of ‘omg what the hell are we going to do?’ is partially a fear because we’re trying to control the future, which is impossible. Even spending five minutes doing conscious breathing helps to bring you out of that impossible future space and into the present. Where we have enough to be getting on with. No use being anxious about the future when we need all of our strength for the now. Breath. Feel your lungs expand. Pay attention to your eyes as they open and close. End with a prayer. It helps. It really does.
    • I collect beautiful words. As a lover of words that can slip into you and stay there for a while, nourishing you right when you need it most–the ugliness, the ignorance steeped in ugliness, has been hard to bear. So the beautiful words I do find, I’ve been collecting, writing on paper, then posting the paper on my walls. Some of my current favorites:
      • “I felt like a blackberry in a pail of milk.” ~Harriet Tubman
      • “Every time I comb my hair
        Thoughts of you get in my eyes” ~Prince
      • “Day and night, she threw herself against the rock. The scales that were scraped from her body flew up into the air and danced in the wind like blood-stained cherry petals.” ~Yoko Tawada, Where Europe Begins
      • “There are things about you that you’ll want to change
        But these are all the little pieces of you that I love.” ~Ben Hartley, Little Pieces Of You
    • I read books about herbs. I am an herbalist. I don’t talk about it a lot online, as herbs are a very hands on thing–you experience herbs in your body and senses and because I still am a young herbalist, it’s really hard for me translate this into blog posts so far. But even if I don’t quite have the skill to do so yet, many others do–Matthew Wood is one of the best for a general practical overview of a plant. Rebecca Altman at King’s Road Apothocary has a lovely newsletter that she puts out every week that are helpful/practical but also beautiful and lovely to sit down with a cup of tea and read.
    • I listen to this song on rotation. :p

There are other things, but for now, the above has been what I’ve been relying on. If you feel like sharing what you do to survive, I’d love to hear from you in comments!

the war years

I’ve felt pretty guilty since the inauguration.

I’ve watched the crowds of people cheering for #45, I’ve felt their pleasure in my bones. I’ve listened to their incomprehensible belief that 45 is the best thing that has ever happened to the US. My stomach has twisted with growing apprehension as hard red faces get tighter and meaner. I know what those faces mean. I know what’s coming.

And I admit, I’ve spent more time since the election and especially since the inauguration feeling scared, overwhelmed, defeated. Even though I’ve been to multiple protests/rallies, and even for the very first time ever, I had my family ask to come with me (rather than what usually happens: me packing everything up and saying, get in the car, we’re all going to the march now. Cue groans and eye rolls.). Even though marches have been bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to marches on Washington and anti-war protests and anti-Patriot Act and pro-immigration and pro-choice marches for well over two decades. Even though the place I spent much of my childhood, Conservative Religious Evangelical USA, had thousands of anti-Betsy DeVos protestors out in the main square.

Even though.

There are people ‘resisting’ that I never expected and never would’ve imagined could. And I know I’m supposed to feel joy. But it’s been hard to even see these faces of ‘resistance.’ All I see is the sweaty red heat of anger and the squirming tension. I know what’s coming.

I know I’m supposed to feel joy–but I’ve spent most of my post-election time just being depressed. And for lack of better word, nihilistic. There’s nothing we can do to stop what’s coming. There’s nothing we can do to fix this. We’re all screwed.

And so the guilt swirls around me, picking at my depression, grinding it up and spitting it out. While so many inspirational amazing and frankly overwhelming actions and solidarity and love has sprung up around me, I’ve been chewing the ‘yeah, but…’ my tongue has been trying to fling all over the love. I keep eyeballing my Actually Pants I keep in the corner of my room, ready to pull them on once I just can’t take the determined hopefulness anymore.

Actually, this is all bullshit, actually, we’re all fucked, actually there’s nothing we can do I don’t know why you’re bothering, actually these white women are back stabbing assholes, actually nobody really wants change they just hate 45, actually actually actually actually actually.

I want to spit all over everything before it even gets started. I want to burn to ashes the trust required to even hope that any of this ‘resistance’ is real.

Because just as I know the sinewy tautness of those hard red faces, I know the bland dismissal of the hundreds of thousands now marching in the streets. I know their ferocious level of allegiance to keeping everything just as it is. Liberal reformist, they said with pride.

My body was one of those bodies thrown to the heap by the red faced bulldogs, with the apologetic help of those marching now. Violently attacked as ‘criminal’ by the bulldogs, blandly dismissed as ‘not practical’ by the reformists.

I know who these people are who write about ‘resistance.’ I know what the whiteness of their eyeballs when they roll up into the back of their heads, I know the maddening ‘patience’ that they used to type out their email defense of doing everything exactly as it’s always been done. I know the pride they wore ‘practical’ and ‘common sense’ in the face of my ‘rabid’ warnings about immigration regulations and DHS goals and Detroit and Michigan and emergency managers.

I’ve felt guilty, even as I get up and march, even as I keep talking talking talking with confused friends protesting for the first time, even as I sign my post cards and call my Congress people.

Guilty because I don’t trust any of this. And I know what’s coming. And we’re all fucked.

I ran away from the place I grew up in. Was (re)birthed by a new city into a new worldview. I ran away because I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. I couldn’t handle it. The new city that claimed me gave me love. Freedom. It didn’t pray over me or try to change me or love me and hate my sin. Acceptance. I ran away, as so many of us have done, to freedom.

Then that city that I grew up in got bigger and took over my state.  And then the election happened and 45 took over, and I figured out that there’s no place left to run. That I’ve been standing on the plank, the noose tightly wrapped around my neck all this time. And now that people are finally marching and protesting and ‘resisting,’ I don’t trust their ‘resistance’ anymore than I trust that the red faces will ever stop savoring my death.

And I feel guilty because what I have to offer to this ‘movement’ is not what’s needed right now.

So I decided to just rest. To just rest in all these feelings and feel them. Because they’re so overwhelming I can’t see anything else. I can’t even see a way out.

I rest in these feelings and admit that I can’t handle seeing even the names on tweets of some of those liberal reformist marchers any more than I can handle seeing or even saying 45’s name. I blame them as much as I blame 45. I don’t trust what’s going on and I don’t know if I ever will.

And that’s ok.

The basic rule of thumb for organizers is that you start where people are. You don’t ask anybody to be anything but what they are, and you go from there. But far too often organizers don’t give themselves that same acceptance, that same grace from the universe. Start with where you’re at. We’re the ones that are supposed to be the ‘leaders,’ the ‘experts’ at what we do now. We’re supposed to know what to do, where the resources are, how to move forward.

We’re not supposed to be so bitterly hatefully angry that all we can do is glare and try to not punch all the liberals who are all of a sudden embracing punching as an organizing strategy. Do they know how much I’d love to have punched them in the faces all these years? Do they know the urge was almost uncontrollable in me during the ‘punching nazi’ debate?

I feel guilty for even typing that. But I’m not going to delete it. I am going to instead just relax. And accept that this is where I am right now.

I didn’t punch a liberal reformist today. It is a good day.

And that’s all I can ask of myself.

A common mantra right now is that this isn’t a skirmish we’re dealing with, it’s a war. And to be prepared for war, you have to be prepared for the long haul. Eventually I may be more able to push and shove and meld all these conflicting issues in my body and mind into a new shape, and I’ll be ready to negotiate the world with that new body. There’s time, hopefully. But even during wars, sometimes the world stops and you just can’t move forward until you recognize all that’s been lost, all that will never be the same again.

And right now, I’m there. The world has stopped. I can’t run away–there’s no place left to run. Things will never be the same again. Which means we’ve already seen the first casualty of this war.

And I need some time before I can move on.




One Day at a Time

For my second essay in the 52 essays in 2017 challenge, I had a different theme planned. I was going to review a PBS show that is about to start, Victoria. I had the chance to catch a free viewing a while ago and I was planning on looking all On Board with my life by reviewing it. But then another show came along and it has me so excited, I decided to pull the Victoria review until later and focus on this show instead.

So what is this exciting show that I love so much?

One Day at a Time.

Old people like me will know that this new Netflix show is a reboot of an old 70s/80s show. In the original, a single working class mom gets a divorce and winds up in a teeny apartment taking care of her two daughters while working to stay afloat. It started Bonnie Franklin and many of you may remember that one of her younger daughters was played by Valerie Bertinelli (who was hot and one of my first crushes ever).

The new show follows the same structure, a single working class mom with two kids is working to stay afloat after a painful separation (not yet finalized with divorce). But new show also adds in new elements, like the family it’s focusing on has a son (instead of the two daughters of the original) and the grandma lives with the family. The mother is a military vet- oh, and the family is also Cuban American.

While I am not usually a fan of sitcoms, I can get drawn into them, usually through my children. They start watching the show and I sort of pay attention while I’m doing other things and eventually I start watching and enjoying the show as much as they do. This has happened with mixed success-I loved Parks and Rec and consider it one of my all time favorite shows. But I find  How I Met Your Mother to obnoxious. And I despise (and have even banned) The Office (US version).

One Day at a Time reboot got me interested not through my kids but through nostalgia. I did find a lot in the original series that I really identified with, also being in a working class family, and yes, there was very much a Bertinelli factor, so I wanted to see what they’d do (or how’d they mess up) with a program of my youth. What does a working class family look like today compared to in the past?

Turns out that answer is complicated.

Because while it’s made clear in this series that being a single mom is economically difficult and even stifling (like when single mom, Penelope, played by Justina Machado, finds out that her employer is paying her less than a male co-worker that started after her and quits, the first thing on her mind is the consequences her family will face because she stood up for herself), the family’s economic struggles are also not what the show is predominately or even partially about.

No, this show is the of the old school classic sitcom era. Episodes exist less to to tell an individual story about an individual character (think: ‘focus episodes’ in the Walking Dead that feature storyline for one single character), and more to contemplate an issue together as an audience through the series characters. What should parents do when their children are caught viewing porn? What do we think about immigration once there’s an individual face on the issue? How do we really feel about those Che Guevara t-shirts?

As a Chicana (US born of Mexican descent), I was a little put off at first by the focus on a Cuban American family. Cuban Americans are notorious in the Latino community (however it is defined) for being more conservative than other Latinos. They get special rights of immigration that other Latinos don’t (if they set foot on US soil, they are fast tracked for legal status, usually achieving it within a year) and earlier generations of Cuban immigrants generally were very wealthy anti-Castro/communism. They got their special relationship with the US based on agreement with US policy, whereas many other Latino groups (like Chican@s/Mexicans) have specific disagreements with US policy and are so considered criminals.

But as another person watching the series with me pointed out, the choice to focus on Cuban Americans may have made sense simply because that way there could be a more obvious and natural ‘face’ on the conservative viewpoint (think: All In the Family). In other words, there’s a legitimate reason many Cubans are conservative, whereas Chicanos are almost defined by their leftist stances. To try to make a Chicano conservative wouldn’t work just wouldn’t work the way it does with Cuban/Cuban Americans that have actual conservative community.

So I decided to keep an open mind and recognize that for all my bias, I actually know very little about Cuba but have always wanted to know more. This provided a perfect opportunity for me to learn.

But for anybody who may be looking for a detailed explanation of Cuban American stances on the Cuban/US political relationship or Cuban history, you’re not going to get it through this show. And that’s a shame because there were several opportunities to get into a discussion. For example, when the family’s white landlord, Schneider (played by Todd Grinnell), visits while wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, the whole family yells at him about what a murderer Guevara was and that he shouldn’t be wearing anything with Che on it at all. But then the subject is dropped. I got that Cuban/Cuban Americans have specific reasons for disliking Guevara, but outside of calling him a murderer there was no explanation as to why Cuban/Cuban Americans specifically dislike him, or why other Latinos found him compelling enough to make him their leader or even what Cuban/Cuban Americans think of other Latinos that even worship him. While of course I would’ve preferred a break in the show to watch a documentary (haha) or a reference to particular books as we saw in Luke Cage, at the very least, it would’ve been nice to see the Che Guevara t-shirt convo happening with another Latino. We didn’t get that, and it was a disappointment.

But even as there are no broad or deep analysis of Cuban/American policy or history in One Day at a Time, there are many many more ‘general Latino’ situations/critiques that are dealt with in hilarious, compelling and surprisingly touching  ways that make excellent T.V.

Take Elena’s (the older daughter, played by the effervescent Isabella Gomez) Quinceañera. This celebration of a girl’s ‘coming of age’ (which happens when she turns 15), is the storyline that threads thru the entire series, and is reportedly based on the experiences of show producer and writer, Gloria Calderon Kellett. The Quinceañera is an increasingly conflicted space in Latino communities and households, often pitting traditional elders against younger generations that are farther away from the full investment in the Catholic Church that their elders are. At the same time, many decry the monetization of what is essentially a religious ceremony and others wonder why only girls get this ceremony. Many are also creeped out by the prospect of calling 15 yr old girls ‘women,’ especially within cultures that often see those girls married off in their teens.

All of these subjects are elegantly and humorously covered in One Day at a Time. But perhaps most bravely, the show dared to imagine what a Quinceañera might look like or mean to a young girl who bristles under the stifling constraints of ‘womanhood’ defined by a Quinceañera. What does it mean to ‘become a woman’ when you don’t like dresses and are maybe a raging feminist? What does it mean to ‘become a woman’ (and so, according to the church, able to marry, bear children, etc) and you are a lesbian? Or maybe not? Because you’re still only 15 and just not sure where your life will take you or what you’re meant to be?

I’ll not spoil the way the Quinceañera story wraps up, but I will say that for all the Queer Love that Netflix’s Sense8 gets, I found One Day at a Time‘s storyline to be far more touching and lovely and even better storytelling in many ways.

The standout of One Day at a Time is Rita Moreno, cast as the family’s matriarch, Lydia. That I know of, she is the first older Latina on TV since George Lopez’s mom in his show. And she doesn’t disappoint. Abuelita Lydia is sexy, sexual, funny, conservative, and an immigrant. She is definite in her ideas (see: the ongoing lipstick joke) but at the same time, willing to find ways within her conservative beliefs to still love her family and be there for people who need her. She feels that immigrants should go thru the system and ‘be legal’ as she did. But she also experienced enough trauma in her own legal immigration experience that when Elena’s US born friend with an immigrant family needs help, she shows compassion. And Moreno’s storyline with Elena on the subject of makeup is one of the most touching storylines I’ve seen on any show in a long time.

If over the top humor is your thing, One Day at a Time doesn’t fail you. Penelope gets put in many of these situations, including one that sees her stuck in a doggie door. Machado plays the different situations well and always manages to stop just short of getting hysterical or out of control–but at the same time, I found these over the top situations to be the weak point of the show. It’s not that I have a problem with slapstick humor, it’s more that I don’t believe that there’s any likely situation in the world that would see any mother stuck in a doggie door. For slapstick over the top humor to work for me, it needs to be grounded in reality, like when Roseanne and Dan throw their furniture out on the front lawn. While it seems unlikely that something like that would happen, it is very funny to think about all the times in your life it could’ve happened. And of course, there’s always a few people here and there where it did happen. That’s what makes it funny. Situations like the doggie door or over the top characters like Schneider just don’t make sense to me. Why waste your time on a character or a situation that would never exist in real life? But having said that, I do recognize that some people like over the top humor exactly because it’d never happen in real life–so if that’s you, this series has that for you!

But even as I have mixed feelings about sitcom humor, One Day at a Time, for whatever weak points it may have, always comes back to the compassion and love of family. And it was during the times when Penelope and Lydia were fighting about taking the kids to church or Elena was worrying about how to come out that I found myself remembering the classic era of situation comedies when families (even my very messed up often violent family) would use the situations on particular shows to start conversations within their own families. What would you do if that was happening to you? What would I do in that situation? One Day at a Time invites us all to reflect from a position of compassion and love, even when somebody is doing something we don’t agree with.

The greatest honor to me was when my kids saw what Penelope did in the final scenes in the final show, and they turned me and said, ‘We know you’d do that too, Mami.’ Everybody knew that the situation and person that caused Penelope to have to do what she did was wrong, and the series doesn’t look away from that pain. But it focuses on the love. It focuses on the best in us, the stuff that has been there all along.

There’s a lot to be said about representation and finally seeing a Latino family sitcom. It allows us to imagine a new world, one that is defined by diversity of thinking and people–and that is important. But more so, shows like this also reflect to the world what is already here. And loving, political, kind Latino families are already here. We’ve been around for generations, laughing, crying, making mistakes, and surviving anyway just like everybody else.

A welcome reminder as we move into 2017.