My daughter June is a spunky, strong-willed kid. She’s whip-smart, has an imagination that gets her into all kinds of mischief, and genuinely believes herself to be a superhero. She also just helped me vote for Elizabeth Warren (sniff, sniff) after being shocked by the revelation that no woman has become president yet. In every damn way, June is the courageous and goofy protagonist of her own life, and I am here for all of it.
While it’s certainly awesome to present my little girl with cartoons about fairy princesses, it’s even cooler when she gets to watch shows about girls who are kicking ass and taking names in the real world. Luckily, I don’t have to look far, because Netflix just released a new series that’s all about girl power.
Executive-produced by Mario Lopez, The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia tells the story of a Latina teen with dreams as big as her brain. Fifteen-year-old Ashley (played by Paulina Chavez) attended college at nine years old and is now the youngest person to ever get a PhD. When she’s offered the chance to move across the country and build robots for NASA, our plucky female lead jumps at the chance to leave her overbearing mom and live with her laid-back uncle.
My daughter audibly giggled as she watched Ashley huddled in her bedroom talking to the camera in the opening shot of the pilot episode. As she records a secret vlog entry all about her new NASA gig, Ashley vents about how much her mom controls her life and that she just wants to know what it’s like to be out on her own. When her mother knocks on the door to ask who she’s talking to, the kid genius quickly stops what she’s doing and blurts out the lie that she’s simply “packing out loud.” June couldn’t contain herself as Ashley fumbled around her room pretending to announce everything she was sticking into her suitcase, and I definitely caught a glimpse of my own dorky teenage years as I watched her flail around.
It’s awkwardly heartwarming moments like this that show my daughter a female character who is as hilariously human as she is ambitious. Sure, Ashley’s impossibly smart, but she also wants to know what it’s like to be kissed and properly put on makeup for the first time. Basically, she’s just your average teenager if your teen also had an IQ that was off the charts. For my daughter, the joy of watching Ashley navigate genius-laden teen life is seeing a future where she could potentially do the same. Her intelligence, vivaciousness, and humor speaks volumes to my inquisitive, silly kid.
Now you might be wondering why you’ve probably never heard of this awesome series. I can assure you that I’ve been wondering the exact same thing. Why the hell would Netflix debut a charming sitcom that takes shows like Doogie Howser, M.D. and throws an adorable Latina girl into the mix and not promote the pants off of it? The reason may be found in recent statistics of Latino representation in media and the lack of viewership for shows like Netflix’s One Day at a Time, which boasted an all-Latino cast and was canceled after three seasons.
According to a 2014 study, Latinos in television are primarily cast as criminals, law enforcement officials, and low-wage workers often in overly-sexualized roles. Despite being one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country, Latino participation in watching mainstream, English-speaking media is painfully low due to a limited range of encouraging stories and roles being shared. If I’m being completely honest, it seems to me that digital platforms like Netflix are most likely playing it safe by not ramping up marketing for shows like The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia. And that really fucking sucks.
We need girls of all backgrounds to be represented onscreen, because every single kid in this country deserves to see an inspiring main character who actually looks like them. If you haven’t already checked out this delightful Netflix series, I highly suggest you do. Your daughters will thank you.