When Jane the Virgin first debuted on the CW in 2014, it wasn’t immediately pigeonholed as a Latinx show. Publications like the Television Critics Association, USA Today, and The Associated Press wrote that it was one of the most promising new shows of the fall season. The New York Times claimed that Jane the Virgin was aiming “beyond its Latin ethnicity,” instead of pandering to Latinx viewers. Since its release, the show has become one of many bilingual shows in the burgeoning Spanish language television market. Recently, a study found that only 24 percent of people who watch the show are Latino, while 54 percent of the audience identified as non-Hispanic white, making it a fan favorite among a broader American viewership.
Yet as the series prepares for its final episode — creator and showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman decided to end the series last year, though the show was reporting lower ratings — it’s the Latina fans I know who are preparing for a difficult goodbye. Across my social media feeds, the second to last episode’s final sentence — “To be continued… one last time” — is paired with sobbing gifs. Friends have messaged me saying they’re not ready for the show’s end, reflecting on the fact that it’s “so relatable for Latinas,” and lamenting about what the story meant for matriarchal families. I, admittedly, even cried as Jane, in the second-to-last episode, finally secured a $500,000 book deal, seeing for the first time a Latina — who lives a life fundamentally similar to mine on the screen — achieve a goal that’s always seemed out of reach. This is more than a goodbye for a beloved CW show — it’s a broader realization that before Jane the Virgin, no show portrayed the messy and tender relationship between generations of Latina grandmothers, mothers, and daughters quite like this.
For those not familiar, Jane the Virgin is an American satirical telenovela loosely based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen. After being artificially inseminated by her gynecologist, Jane Gloriana Villanueva’s (Gina Rodriguez) life begins to unravel. Over the course of the series, Jane adjusts to her growing family, while falling in love (twice). Throughout five seasons there’s love triangles, a sociopathic drug lord who kidnaps Jane’s baby, a cancer diagnosis, evil Russian twins, and every classic telenovela twist.
Meanwhile the show teases out the stories of its supporting characters: Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), Jane’s mom, opens a dance studio and battles cancer; Rogelio (Jaime Camil), Jane’s dad, is an over dramatic telenovela star with a soft side and a dream to reach American stardom; Alba (Ivonne Coll), Jane’s grandmother, struggles to gain American citizenship and falls in love with her co-worker. But even throughout the wildest of storylines, the characters responded earnestly. In most episodes, the three Villanueva women sit side-by-side on the porch swing just outside their family home, the place where they make most of their emotional breakthroughs. On this porch swing we saw three generations of Latinas grapple with different realities and upbringings, finding common ground between their experiences by talking it out in a blend of both their languages.
Jane the Virgin did many things well. It satirized its own genre without being condescending, with the help of a witty, tongue-in-cheek narrator who often ended his recaps by saying, “Straight out of a telenovela right?” The love stories were as over the top as they were beautiful; the whimsical visual effects, like glowing red hearts on character’s chests to indicate falling in love, added a charming veneer of magical realism. It also tackled the political and social issues facing the Latinx population in America. In this season, Rogelio struggled with pay inequality for people of color when he realized his white co-star was making twice as much as him on an adaptation of a telenovela he brought to the States. Meanwhile, Alba finally became an American citizen after being undocumented since season one. When facing a rival from a previous season who used her immigration status against her, she yells, “I’m not scared of you anymore, because I’m an American now! Bitch!”
The most satisfying part of these moments was how they weren’t meant to be outright educational. Whereas shows taking on large, timely Latinx issues can sometimes feel too on the nose — think One Day at a Time’s Elena who teeters on being a caricature of social justice activists — Jane the Virgin felt organic, letting its characters come to conclusions that feel honest and appropriate. The show’s creators weren’t here to teach the audience about Latinxs and the way they live; they just wanted to tell you Jane and her family’s story.
While juggling all these elements, what the series excelled at most was its portrayal of Latina women and their relationships. Alba was the traditional abuela who writes off pre-marital sex as the ultimate sin; Xiomara, a once-promiscuous teen mother, had a fraught relationship with Alba that matured over time; Jane, the type-A, responsible person who always seemed to be Xiomara’s caretaker instead of vice-versa, was the glue that bound them both together. The three of them have conflicting relationships to sex and gender roles, but over five seasons they evolved.
For example, Alba’s puritanical views about sex were eventually revealed as a defense mechanism for the way she was shunned for having premarital sex as a young woman. Slowly but definitively, she had a change of heart about Jane’s sex life. In this last season, her long and complicated relationship with sex came to a climax when she revealed to Jane that she turned down her boyfriend’s proposal of marriage because she was too scared to sleep with him following decades of abstinence after her husband’s death. Heartwarmingly, Jane takes her to a sex shop. It was an honest, credible reaction springing from the dynamic of open communication and acceptance between the Villanueva women that permeated the show.
The relationship between grandmother, mother, and daughter was never easy, but the show didn’t shy away from that fact; instead it conveyed how Jane, Alba, and Xiomara worked hard for each other’s support. No modern series depicted the intergenerational gaps between Latinas so accurately, while simultaneously giving viewers the tools to better understand and evaluate their own relationships. The result was a cathartic portrait of Latinas that didn’t rely on ethnicity as a character trait or plot point.
In an interview with Variety, Urman said the show’s finale is about celebrating the connection between the characters, those who worked on the show, and the audience. “It’s all about honoring this big, unruly family that we all created and then saying goodbye to them,” she said. The three Villanueva women, who have always lived within a few blocks of each other and have raced to the porch swing at a moment’s notice, are moving on to the next phase of their lives. It’s hard to let go, when representation on television is often dire, and I fear it might be a long time before we see a Latina family like this again. At least Jane the Virgin led me to my own porch: late nights around the kitchen table with my mother and sister, celebrating how far we’ve come and how much further we can go.