Thursday, May 16, 2013

A New Hispanic Character for Sesame Street's 44th Season

Monday afternoon, I had the most wonderful opportunity to sit down with Sesame Street's new Hispanic character, Armando, and his amiga, Rosita, who may well now be my favorite Sesame Street muppet of all time.

Armando - or Mando as he is called on the show - is played by the talented Ismael Cruz Córdova. Ismael is such a likeable guy with his energetic smile and infectious laugh, that I know children across the country will be immediately drawn to his character this fall. He brings a new face to the show that reflects the multiculturalism of modern-day Latinos in America. From the soles of his dancing feet to the tips of his vibrant hair, Ismael is a beautiful blend of his Puerto Rican, Taino, Afro-Caribbean, and European ancestry.

Latino families like ours, are in for a treat as Sesame Street's 44th season (which premieres on September 16th - Ummm, happy Mexican Independence Day, people!) will focus will be on both executive function skills and Hispanic Heritage. Of course we all know what Hispanic Heritage means, but if you're like me, you may be wondering what in the world executive function skills are and what they have to do with early education. It sounds more like something the CEO of a major company needs, no?

Pero, they are actually essential skills that together create the foundation of all core brain activity and are comprised of the ABC's of self regulation, including Affect (understanding that your actions have an affect), Behavioral (showing self control, curbing impulses), and Cognitive (understanding how your actions have an impact).

Part of Mando's role on the show will be to focus on self-expression. He is a writer who loves to write anything from poetry to songs and everything in between. During our interview, Rosita gave an example of how he helped her recently when she became upset after reading a book (she's learning to read) that she had been waiting for. It was called Hola, Lola and was about a little Mexican girl just like her...only she wasn't. The little girl in the book instead walked around wearing a sombrero, owned a burro, and took siestas all the time. Rosita was disappointed and frustrated, but Mando told her that instead of writing an angry letter to the publisher, she should write her own book. He inspired her to share her own story with others.

Ay! You know, right, that this is a guy after my own heart, no?

So Rosita did it. She actually wrote her own song. And she called her story Mi amiguita, Rosita. You'll be able to learn all about it this coming season on Sesame Street. (Did you catch the executive function skill Mando taught Rosita? To channel her frustration into something positive and productive?)

And, Mamis, you will love the fact that when I asked Ismael who his role model was growing up, he told me that it was his own Mami. Here's what he said in our interview...

"I was not influenced much by pop culture," Ismael said. "I was completely and directly influenced by my mom. She was always very clear about her struggle. Not in an accusing way or anything. Just very bare boned. 'This is it and this is what’s happening and your actions will affect you,' she said. She was very clear and open with us about her journey. Not condescending. She spoke to her children…"

"…Respectfully. I learned that from my parents," Rosita said.

"And she considered my opinions," said Ismael. "But always that impetus to move forward. Always the drive to continue no matter what happened."

"So did she place an emphasis on education?" I asked.

"Most definitely," he responded. "It was, 'This is your only option.' And it was your responsibility. We were never rewarded for good grades. It’s also your responsibility to educate yourself as a citizen. You shouldn’t be given a treat just to be the best. Just to do your part. She worked in a Mexican restaurant, and I used to wait for her and do my homework. Sadly, she wasn’t ever able to help us with it. So it was on us and that is very empowering for a child. That was the seedling at my core. I’m trying to keep from crying right now."

They did not, however, have a reading culture in their home. They were never really taught to read. In fact, he says he did not read his first entire book (cover to cover) until 7th grade. He bemoaned the fact that he had not developed better literacy skills early on as he had to work very hard and force himself to develop them when he was older.

Which made my gift to him that much sweeter. Since we knew I'd have the chance to interview Ismael in Maimi, my kids and I decided to present him with a little gift of Latino children's literature straight off of our bookshelves. Each of us chose a book and wrote a message on the inside. We hoped that maybe these books might provide a little bit of inspiration for future episodes. Maybe Mando could read one of the stories or poems to Rosita as one of the segments? Wouldn't that be awesome to feature Latino children's literature on Sesame Street? (It certainly doesn't hurt to try, no?) Either way, the smiles on his and Rosita's faces spoke volumes. And they were quite happy to pose for pictures as you can see above.

You can read more about our selections tomorrow on our sister blog,

I just want to end this post sharing his responses to my children's short questions:

My daughter wanted to know what his favorite food was. Ismael said vegetarian sushi! (Yes, he's a vegetarian.)

And my son wanted to know what his favorite color was. Any guesses? He said, ROJO.


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