Alycia Pascual-Peña on repping Afro-Latina heritage on ‘Saved by The Bell’ reboot

The new version of the beloved series premieres Nov. 25

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Alycia Pascual-Peña is one of the fresh faces we’ll meet when we return to Bayside High for the new Saved by The Bell series at NBC’s Peacock. 

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She’ll join original cast members Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley Lauren who have returned to reprise their roles as A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano in the new take on the beloved NBC series that ran from 1989-1993. Other cast members include John Michael Higgins, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, Mitchell Hoog, Josie Totah, and Haskiri Velazquez. We’ll also get some appearances from original cast OG’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Lark Voorhies, and Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, who will guest star in a few episodes. 

But don’t expect the same old storylines in this new version as it promises to tackle issues we’re facing in 2020.

In the new series, when California governor Zack Morris gets into hot water for closing too many underfunded high schools, he proposes they send the affected students to the most well-funded schools in the state – including Bayside High. The influx of new students gives the privileged Bayside kids (who never have a problem that can’t be solved in twenty-two minutes) a much-needed dose of reality.

theGrio recently caught up with Pascual-Peña, who plays Aisha in the reboot. The Afro-Latino actress opened up about what it’s like to be part of such a highly-anticipated project and how she lobbied to bring her true identity to her character. 

Alycia Pascual Peña in ‘Saved By the Bell’ (Photo by: Chris Haston/Peacock)

The Bronx native, who has been acting since she was three, says snagging this role was a life-changing experience. 

“I was ecstatic. It understandably changed my life. I was actually preparing to go back to New York, where I’m from. And I was at the time, still in school…I had just finished a film and it has always been a dream to be on a sitcom. So to get that call that I was going to be able to join this historical, very known show and meet all the cast, it was surreal,” she says. “I sure don’t take it lightly. The blessing of being a part of a show that already has such a huge following, that’s a rarity for an actress.”

The Saved by the Bell rebooted version will touch on issues of race, class, and economic disparity in a stark departure from the original show. 

“I think our show very much mirrors what the world looks like now when it comes to conversations about representation and diversity and equality and economic disparities,” Pascual-Peña says. “I’m grateful that I get to be a part of these stories that talk about those things in a comedic way, in a way that everybody can understand and continue those conversations at home. It’s really fun. And I hope that people enjoy our new spin on things.”

Though Lisa Turtle, played by Voorhies, is her favorite character from the original, Pascual-Peña didn’t get to meet her while on set.

“She was on our lot,” she reveals. “I was heartbroken because she was my favorite character and I did not get to meet her, but I am very grateful that she gets to be a part of our show.”

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In the new series, Aisha is a fun-loving, but ultra-competitive teen that grew up playing on boys’ sports teams and causes a stir when she tries to play football at Bayside.

Once she got the part of Aisha, writers and producers pivoted to make Pascual-Pena’s character Afro-Latina instead of African-American as originally planned. 

“I’ve been acting for over ten years and I would say within those ten years, I’ve maybe gotten one or two breakdowns that specifically was requesting an Afro-Latina character. I think that goes to show that the Latino community is very used to not seeing ourselves,” she explains. 

“The fact that I came onto this show and they were willing to have the conversation with me and really respect my intersectionality and commit themselves the way that they have… I’ve been adamant about talking about and improving representation in the industry. Peacock is really committed to progressing the narrative and improving upon representation and really celebrating the entire African diaspora and Latino community with my character. I’m really grateful that I get to play this proud, confident, culturally aware Afro-Latina woman.”

Saved by the Bell premieres Nov. 25 on Peacock. 

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