Alycia Pascual-Peña was only 3 years old when she started working in the entertainment industry, and she couldn't be more proud of all she has accomplished.
Especially now, as she looks back at it all while celebrating the release of the Saved by the Bell revival, currently available to stream via Peacock. In the comedy, the now 21-year-old portrays Aisha Garcia, who, along with her best friend Daisy Jimenez (Haskiri Velazquez), is now a freshly minted Bayside Tiger after transferring due to the controversial closure of high schools in working-class neighborhoods by Governor Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
Pascual-Peña beams with pride when talking about Aisha, an Afro-Latina, budding football star who is everything she wishes she could've seen in characters when she was growing up. But it's never too late and she's ready to change the game for future generations.
"Playing Aisha is one of the biggest moments in my career because of what she will mean to so many young Afro-Latinas, who, like me, grew up with nearly no representation in media," she tells EW. "I know what dealing with erasure feels like when people refuse to make space for you. I always knew I wanted to be a performer, so I could improve upon the stories that were being told about our communities. For too long, Latino and Black communities grew accustomed to seeing stories about us that didn't celebrate us or uplift us. I pray I do the character of Aisha justice and people feel motivated and inspired after watching the show."
With Aisha leading the boy's football team, Pascual-Peña worked closely with Saved by the Bell OG, Mario Lopez, who is now the school's football coach. Already a fan of his work thanks to reruns of the original, she credits both Lopez and his costar Lark Voorhies for inspiring her.
"Mario was one of the most notable representations of the Latino community on a show that large," she explains. "I grew up watching him on reruns and I gravitated towards Slater and Lisa Turtle because they looked like me and they sounded like me. I knew that they came from families like me. Finding out that I was going to be on a show with them was an honor. Especially with Mario playing my coach, and getting to work so closely with him. We're two Latinos who look so different but come from similar heritages and we talk about it all the time."
When Aisha first arrives at Bayside, she meets her Bayside Buddy, Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli), and crushes hard. The two go on to have a relationship that falls apart after Jamie proposes after he and his friends serenade her with Another Bad Creation's hit, "Iesha." Natch.
They break up and before the season is over, Aisha spots him kissing another girl. She looks heartbroken at the time, but does she have any regrets now?
"Aisha went on quite a journey at this new school, a lot of things were happening for her at once," Pascual-Peña says. "For many people going through the high school experience, they have romantic relationships. Not me personally, but a lot of people do. I think through that relationship, she learned a lot about herself. She knew she wasn't ready for what he wants and she remains true to herself. She learned about the implicit biases she has because of his higher socioeconomic status."
She adds, "As far as regrets are concerned regarding their breakup, I think she is feeling it to a certain extent. She's questioning herself and learning how to navigate interpersonal relationships in her life. She knows she cares about Jamie in a way she doesn't care about her other peers and she's trying to figure it all out now. It's also complex because he's a teammate and she wants to be a successful athlete. I have to mention that shooting that proposal scene was so much fun! It was just full of the wackiness and the ridiculousness that makes this show such a success. Even when that camera wasn't shooting, I was dancing by myself."