7 O'Clock Viewing

May 1, 2022 / Samantha Paradiso


In the village of Santiago where my family is from, children are born from stem leaves. Seedlings scattered about the terracotta clay. Leathered, weathered, dirty hands lay their palms upon the earth and wait for the subtle rumble of heartbeats scattered about. Vast acres of land plotted for the sole purpose of birthing offspring. Once they begin to bud, children, planted like seeds, emerge from the earth like a spindly vine, reaching for the sun’s rays. Come spring’s harvest, they’re uprooted along with the guandu, arroz, and yucca. Freshly pulled, they’re then swaddled in banana leaves and handed off to their respective mothers to carry out their lives, often in poverty.

My great grandmother’s home in the mountains stands atop a hill, rich with plantain trees, orange trees, lemon trees, and culantro bushes; lacking in electricity, plumbing, and luxurious commodities. Wooden walls and tin roofs, dirt floors and little riches, this is my family’s origin story. Where my great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all reared, and all eventually left to look for something better.

I’m reminded of the plot of novelas on Univision’s channel 45, bookended by “Al Rojo Vivo” and “El Gordo y La Flaca.” Amidst the electronic trills of the dimly lit arcade, my mother and father locked eyes from across the room and instantly fell in love. Cue the montage. Giggles over ice cream. Hushed whispers on the bus. Lots of intense eye contact. There was just one thing getting in the way of their Nicholas Sparks romance. My dad was leaving for America in two weeks. Rationally, mother followed.

Though once inseparable, my parents eventually split. And like the numerous other immigrants in this country, my mother came to America without any resources. She struggled to train her tongue to speak a language that was foreign to her. An unoriginal plot, but one shared by many. Yet when she turned the television on, she found solace in her friends La Madrastra, María la del Barrio, Esmeralda, Teresa, and Rubí. And as I transitioned from a diaper donning toddler with a staggering gait to a mischievous chamaca, my mother indoctrinated me in this ritual. Every day after school, I would run home from the bus stop, trample up the stairs, and heave my body onto the couch just in time to tune in for the next episode of “Rebelde.” And after that, it was “Amy, la niña de la mochila azul,” and “Carita de Ángel,” and “Gotita de Amor.”

These novelas tell a tale like no other, throwing daily conventions of race, class, gender, or reality out the window. In that one hour, viewers are no longer in their home, but transported across the globe to Brazil and Turkey and India and Morocco. A full wardrobe of characters to try on. From Doña Angela, who goes to the corner store to buy her morning eggs with her rollers on, to the one neighbor that outdoes everyone with their Christmas lights, everyone can participate in this indulgence. Whether one’s home is finished with ceiling tiles and plaster, or tin roofs with cinderblock walls, just about everyone has at least one television set in their home. And every day at 7 p.m. televisions flicker on, a constellation of screens connecting viewers across the nation.

The guy gets the girl. The evil stepmother is exposed. Everyone lives happily ever after. A wedding caravan with cans and streamers and flowers draped with a banner slathered in “Just Married” drives off into the sunset. Some call it corny. Some call it feel-good. I call it hope. In Latin America, the class you’re born in is often the one you will die in; the social ladder’s rungs have been removed, making it impossible for those at the bottom to climb upward. Novelas, however, disregard these conventions. Anything goes within the 13 inches of the screen. The poor die rich. The rich die poor. And whether it’s conscious or not, these depictions can be uplifting for its viewers who may feel hopeless otherwise.

When my mother first met my father, I wonder if what she saw in his eyes was love or irises rimmed with opportunity. What started as an ideal plot for a novela quickly turned sour. But although she didn’t get to live happily ever after with her prince charming, she got a chance at life. I imagine it was lonely, but through watching these novelas, I feel like my mother was able to hold onto some semblance of home. When as a family, she’d watch the daily novelas with my grandmother and aunts and uncles, they’d all sit content but resigned at the ending. And she would jump up and down and shout, “This is not an imagined reality, this is us and this is now.” Had she not watched that one episode of “Cuna de Lobos,” would she have ever left the country? Would we still be living in that house on a hill atop the mountains?

On Univision’s channel 45, bookended by that evening’s updates on “Al Rojo Vivo” and the latest episode of “El Gordo y La Flaca,” a new novela is being broadcasted. The screen unfolds the tale of Santiago, a village where children are born from stem leaves. Though a majority of these infants will reside in the land they were reaped from, one seedling makes her way out. She falls in love with a man and America, the typical love triangle. On the bus ride on the way to the airport, she turns around to look at the escaping scenery, intently gazing at the world she’s departing from. My mother and I sit on the couch leaning forward, completely captivated by what will happen next. Credits roll, and we let out a sigh of disappointment as the channel transitions into that evening’s daily news. Pointing the remote at the TV, the screen becomes enveloped in darkness, leaving us only to watch our mirrored reflection canvassed by the television frame. ■

Samantha Paradiso

Adriana Torres & Rebecca Wong

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