Gina Rodriguez proves that you’re never too old to learn your ABCs.
The little kiddies of Sesame Street got a great surprise when Gina Rodriguez appeared to help them learn the alphabet… en español! The Puerto Rican TV sensation not only proved that she can entertain kids, but also that she has some pretty nice singing chops. She grooves with the red puppet we all grew up loving and showed Elmo how to get in on the Spanish-speaking fun.
Move over, Dora the Explorer! There’s a new Latina in town with her very own TV show and he name is Alma.
The new kids show is called “Alma’s Way” and it will be premiering on PBS Kids in the Fall of 2021.
Per PBS, “Alma’s Way” will center around “a proud, confident Puerto Rican girl, who lives in the Bronx with her parents and younger brother, Junior, as well as a diverse group of close-knit and loving friends, family, and community members.”
The show was created by the Emmy-winning actress Sonia Manzano, who you probably know as “Maria” from “Sesame Street”. According to Manzano, “Alma’s Way” is based on her childhood upbringing in the South Bronx.
“Alma’s way is to think things through, and I hope by animating the thought process, kids will be inspired and excited about what goes on in their own minds,” Manzano said in a statement. “I want them to know we all have the power to think regardless of who we are.”
Manzano has previously opened up about how her role on “Sesame Street” paved the way for Latinx representation onscreen. “I’m Puerto Rican, born in New York, watched a lot of television in 50s, never saw anybody who looked like me on television, and thereby began to feel invisible … and I wondered, how was I going to contribute to a society that didn’t see me?” she said in an interview with CBS. “Now, my position here on Sesame Street is so that other Hispanic children can watch me and say ‘Oh look, I exist in the world.'”
The show also plans to “showcase the diversity of New York City” and “authentically reflect the cultures of all the characters.”
This news is significant because there aren’t many children’s shows with Latino protagonists (even though Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S.) Other than “Dora the Explorer” and “Elena of Avalor” (which takes place in an alternate magical reality), kids shows with a Latino as the main character are few and far between.
According to research conducted at the Center for Scholars & Storytellers at UCLA, 65% of the human characters on American kids shows are white. To make things more problematic, only 38% of the main characters in U.S. children’s programming are female. So, “Alma’s Way” is doing double duty by making its main character both female and a person of color.
Let’s hope “Alma’s Way” is one of the many steps that Hollywood is taking to create more representation for Latinos in the media.
“Sesame Street” continues to put in the work and have difficult conversations publicly, and in ways that children can understand.
The legendary kids’ show recently announced that they will be airing an antiracism special starting on October 15th called “The Power of We.” The special will aim to teach families how to “become upstanders against racism”.
“Children look to their families with love and trust to guide their understanding about their place in this great big world,” read a statement on The Sesame Street Workshop’s website. “This Sesame Street special is an uplifting and joyful celebration of how each of us is unique and how we can work together to help make this world a better place for ourselves, our friends, and for everyone!”
The special plans to explore topics of everyone having different skin colors and identities, and what it means to be “color proud”—having pride in your own culture and race.
According to Sesame Street Workshop, the special will center around Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Gabrielle, and Gabrielle’s cousin Tamir. It will also include appearances from celebrity guests like Yara Shahidi, Christopher Jackson, and Andra Day.
As long-time fans of “Sesame Street” know, this is not the first time the iconic show has tackled difficult topics in a kid-friendly manner. The show has long prided itself on teaching children about life’s difficulties from an early age. The program has been groundbreaking in its treatment of taboo topics.
For example, in 2018 the program addressed the topic of homelessness in a segment called “A Rainbow Kind of Day”.
In the segment, a muppet name Lilly decides she doesn’t want to paint anymore. After being encouraged to talk about her feelings by Elmo and Sophia, she explains that she is sad because the color purple reminds her of her old room in a home she doesn’t have anymore. Sophia teaches her that “home is where ever the love lives, and you can take that love and hope with you wherever you go.”
Or in 2012 when the show featured a character whose parents were divorced–a familial situation that is surprisingly still underrepresented on kids’ TV shows.
In this episode, Abby Cadabby makes drawings of her two homes. A confused Elmo gets a lesson from Gordon on what divorce is. Gordon’s matter-of-fact explanation takes away any shame or stigma that children of divorce might be feeling because their families are a little bit different than others’.
And of course, the legendary episode from 1982 in which Big Bird learns about death and grief.
To this day, critics call this episode “revolutionary” for the way it avoided pandering or condescending to children. It was in this episode that “Sesame Street” showed the confidence that it has in its audience. The creatives behind the show obviously recognize that children (just like adults) are hyper-aware of everything going on around them.
“Sesame Street has always been real-world,” Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s EVP of global impact and philanthropy, told Fast Company in 2017. “It’s not a fantasy, it’s not a fairy tale. One of the things that sets us apart is respecting children and dealing with real-world issues from a child’s perspective.”
You can watch Sesame Street’s “The Power of We” streaming on HBO Max starting on Thursday, October 15th. It will also air on PBS stations that same day. You can download the special’s companion guide here.