Focusing on Latino Literacy with Sesame Street

Things have been quiet on the site the last few weeks as I juggled family obligations and work. But this week, I had a special treat when I attended the PBS Annual Meeting in Miami.

I have to say that I really had no intention of sharing my interview of Sesame Street’s newest Latino cast member here on Latinas4LatinoLit, BUT there were three things said or shared that made it absolutely essential.

Ismael Cruz Córdova will be making his debut on Sesame Street during the show’s 44th season this fall. I was able to sit down with the Puerto Rican actor, on Monday to discuss his new role, as well as his background.

It was a bonus to have the bilingual muppet, Rosita, join us. I enjoyed how she talked openly about the show, but especially loved when she shared with me the special moment when Ismael’s character – Mando – helped her turn a frustrating moment into something productive…

Rosita: Can I give an example of how Mando helped me? Because you were so wonderful [to Mando]. I’m learning to read right now and I was looking for a book. It was called Hola, Lola and it was about this Mexican girl. But this book – I was kind of a little disappointed because Lola had a sombrero, and a burro, and I was disappointed because I’m a Mexican girl and it didn’t reflect anything about who I am. But he [Mando] inspired me to write my own story.

L4LL: Wonderful! That’s really exciting!

Ismael: It’s not just for Latinos. Self-expression, to do it yourself, to tell your story is valuable for children. And Rosita’s story will inspire others (all children) to write their own stories.

L4LL: Rosita, what’s the name of your book?

Rosita: Well, actually, it is not a book but a song. And I called it Mi amiguita, Rosita! But the song inspired me, too, so I think I’m going to write a book, too.

Later we talked about literacy. I think it is such a great idea that Mando’s character is a writer, who writes everything from poetry and short plays to scripts and songs. What a great role model for our children!

Ismael: My mom placed a lot of emphasis on education. She told us it was up to us to make sure we studied and did well, and said that if we don’t read, we won’t succeed. She worked hard and wasn’t able to help us with our homework, but made sure we did it. And she understood that kids learn in different ways. I was very visual and I had to train myself as an adult to read more. Mostly because I was a visual learner, and also because we didn’t have a reading culture in my house. My parents didn’t read, were not taught to read. I didn’t read my first entire book (cover-to-cover) until I was in 7th grade.

So of course, we were especially pleased to be able to share some Latino children’s literature with Ismael/Mando & Rosita in the hopes that they would provide some inspiration for some episodes. And maybe – just maybe! – Sesame Street might consider having Mando read from one of them during a show some time.

MommyMaestra (L4LL co-founder, Monica Olivera) took three books; two selected by her children, and one she chose specifically for Mando.

MM’s daughter selected Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina (by Monica Brown & illustrated by Sara Palacios) because Marisol is a beautiful blend of cultures (just like Mando) and she’s proud of all of them.

MM’s son chose A Movie In My Pillow/Una película en mi almohada (poems by Jorge Argueta &
illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez) because it is about a boy who leaves his home country to go and live in another one.

And Monica chose Shake It, Morena! and Other Folklore from Puerto Rico (compiled by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand & illustrated by Lulu Delacre) because it is full of lively songs, games, and riddles from Ismael’s home.

What books would you have given Rosita y Mando?

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