Gloria Calderón Kellett: A Showrunner for Cuban Voices

By Sophia Costanzo

If you grew up Cuban in Los Angeles, certain staples were woven into your daily life. One of the most iconic symbols of Cuban culture was the yellow boxes filled with mouthwatering pastries from Porto’s Bakery. That’s how you instantly know that Gloria Calderón Kellett got it right in her classic sitcom television show, “One Day at a Time,” a comedy-drama inspired by Norman Lear’s 1975 series by the same name.

In the pilot episode, aptly titled “This Is It”,Penelope (Justina Machado) a military veteran, mother, and nurse, returns home with a bag brimming with those unmistakable yellow boxes from Porto’s Bakery. As Rita Moreno’s character, Lydia, emerges from her room and exclaims that there’s a problem, Penelope replies, “I know, the hipsters have discovered Porto’s. Line around the block is like the freaking Apple store now.”

When my Cuban family watched this show together and we encountered this moment, we couldn’t help but scream with laughter. It was a spot-on reflection of what it was like to grow up Cuban American in Los Angeles. Gloria Calderón Kellett’s clear attention to detail in depicting our cultural experiences felt like a victory for Cuban representation in media.

Kellett, a Cuban American writer, producer, director, and actress, was born in Portland and moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University for acting. Her own experiences growing up Latina in the United States have significantly influenced her work, as Kellett is known for creating shows and content that authentically represent Latino culture. 

Some of her earliest writer-producer credits include “How I Met Your Mother”, and her early acting credits include roles in shows like “Jane the Virgin”. However, her work as the executive producer and co-showrunner of “One Day at a Time” and her original show, “With Love,” on Amazon Prime threw her into the spotlight. She even earned a place on the Hollywood Reporter’s “Hollywood’s 50 Most Powerful TV Showrunners of 2022” list, a notable accomplishment considering the lack of Latina representation previously featured on this list.

In “One Day at a Time,” Kellett beautifully captures the subtleties of Cuban American culture. The portrayal of Porto’s Bakery, along with other elements like nuanced language, exemplifies her skillful approach to addressing and navigating sensitive topics like racism, sexism, and mental health issues within the framework of a light-hearted sitcom television show. This approach serves as a guide for thoughtful navigation of these important subjects. It gently encourages open dialogue in Cuban American culture, where discussions about these sensitive topics have sometimes been less frequent.

Gloria Calderón Kellett’s ability to weave the vibrant tapestry of Cuban culture into the fabric of American television has left a lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Having felt the warmth of her shows in my family’s own living room, I can personally attest to how her dedication to representation has made a lasting impact on our community.

Check out “One Day at a Time” on Netflix and “With Love” on Amazon Prime.