Things That Matter

If You Grew Up With A Family Member In Prison, This Retro ‘Sesame Street’ Episode Will Pull On Your Heartstrings

Sesame Street In Communities / Youtube

In a video that may tug on a few heartstrings for some of us who grew up with both “Sesame Street” in our lives and an incarcerated family member (or two), the video from 2013 introducing viewers to Alex, a muppet that revealed his dad was in prison, was trending this week. His story was part of Sesame Street’s tool kit, a series of online educational videos designed to help address issues that don’t normally get talked about in children’s programming.

Like so many of us who experienced this, Alex tries to get out of talking about his dad.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

A common issue among children with family members who are incarcerated is feeling shame whenever anyone even remotely mentions them. Doesn’t matter who the family member is. If it’s an uncle, cousin, sibling, the moment someone brings them up, it’s like “My uncle? Sure, yeah. Hey, some weather we’re having, huh?”

Sofia, the non-muppet, played by actress Jasmine Romero, recounts her own family incarceration story.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

Sofia goes through the motions of what it looks like for kids growing up in this situation. Writing letters, lots of tears with family and drawings being sent back and forth. For those who experienced this: isn’t it amazing how the drawings coming back from those incarcerated look like actual works of art?

This part of the video series is on the “Sesame Street” site in Spanish.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

This is great for bilingual households dealing with this as well, especially since these issues are seldom spoken about openly in Latino households. You know, how like maybe your tío wasn’t in prison, he was just “upstate.”

Heartbreakingly, Alex asks “what If I do grow up to be like him?”

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

Alex ponders if it’s all his fault as Sofia talks to him about her experiences with her dad being in prison. His question is triggered by Sofia’s reveal that she thought her dad’s fate was somehow her fault, too. This one hits home for anyone who grew up around this, as kids are always affected by these issues the most.

Of the character and “Incarceration” theme, Jeanette Betancourt, VP of Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop said in a 2013 interview with USA Today:

“We are looking not at the cause of the incarceration of the parent, but at the impact of the incarceration on the lives of children and their caregivers… We’re tackling this very difficult topic, but also acknowledging this very invisible community… We’ve heard quite a bit from adults who experienced this as children and who never talked about it out of guilt or shame.”

Aside from Alex, Sesame Street has been in the news a lot lately, most notably because PBS’ funding is being jeopardized by government budget cuts.

Fortunately, Sesame Street is on HBO and its future is probably safe for now.

In addition to the virality of Alex’s story, the show recently introduced Julia, a muppet who has autism.

credit: Sesame Street / Washington Post

Based on a character previously introduced in a Sesame Street book, Julia will introduce a topic never explored on the show before.

Also, a “best of” video released this week featuring digs at “Donald Grump.” Sesame Street has dished out some pretty sweet jabs at Trump over the years.

credit:  Sesame Street / Washington Post

Pretty astute commentary for a kid’s show.

All in all, it was a pretty big week for the muppets of Sesame Street. Can’t wait to see what HBO has in store for Rosita and the gang.

READ: Sesame Street’s New Resident Speaks About Being Latina, Bilingual, And Proud

What do you think about Sesame Street addressing these issues? Share with someone who grew up on the show with the links below!

Here’s How You Can Support Your Incarcerated Family Members If You Don’t Know How

Things That Matter

Here’s How You Can Support Your Incarcerated Family Members If You Don’t Know How

Hédi Benyounes / Unsplash

Talking about our primos in prison is taboo. If you ever had a family member in prison, you may avoid talking about it outside your family circle. The incarcerated family member then becomes a ghost, a cautionary tale, or a source of shame. We forget how they arrived in this situation and hesitate to offer support. Looking closely at issues that contribute to mass incarceration in this country can offer insights into the matter. It’s time we take a new approach to incarcerated family, and offer help in ways the correctional system refuses. It’s time to humanize our imprisoned primos and primas, showing love and empathy that we would want to see if we were behind bars.

Considering the U.S. census shows Hispanics make up 18.3 percent of the population, it is bewildering how they come to make up 32 percent of the Federal inmate population.

However, looking at social issues that plague the Latinx community, it is no surprise that low levels of education, poverty, and structural discrimination lead to incarceration. With the latest instances of aggression toward the Latinx community at the presidential level, it will be no surprise if acts of discrimination and targeting of Latinos continues to rise.

What other factors contribute to the incarceration of Latinos?

Credit: Bill Oxford / Unsplash

The Pew Research Center reports that in 1991, 60 percent of Latinos were sentenced in federal court for drug-related offenses, and 20 percent for immigration crimes. Yet, these figures changed dramatically, with 48 percent of sentences for immigration crimes, and 37 percent of sentences for drug-related crimes in 2007.

The incarceration of Latinos is feeding into the conversation around the school to prison pipeline.

Credit: @LatinoPPF / Twitter

What is the prison experience really like? Netflix series like Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” and “Orange is the New Black” help pull back the curtain on the harsh realities of prison life. More than just TV shows, these depictions exposed micro and macro ways the U.S., home to the largest prison population in the world, focuses not on prisoner rehabilitation, but recidivism instead.

When we think about our family members in prison, we need to remember that they could be facing sexual violence, lack of access to mental health services, solitary confinement, and denial of their reproductive rights.

Credit: Mitch Lensink / Unsplash

It may be the case that an incarcerated family member’s situation is shrouded in mystery and whispers, but this need not be the case. It is not only time to confront these matters at the family level, but to address them at the social level as well. The first step may begin with actually accepting that inmate call. Ask what your family member is going through and share that with the family if he or she permits. You may feel a sense of hopelessness, but there is so much you can do to help not only your own family members but the greater incarcerated Latino community too.

Moving beyond thoughts and prayers—although they’re good too—here are substantive ways you can help incarcerated family members.

Credit: @Art4JusticeFund / Twitter
  • Visit if you can. Even if it is only a few times a year, the impact of human contact cannot be overstated. Ensure you are on the approved visitor’s list before you go. Bring identification and arrive early. Be a good listener and most importantly, show that family love.
  • The experience of visiting prison can be inconvenient or even traumatic, so if you feel you cannot commit this fully then try a virtual visit. Apps like JPay offer inmate services like email, video visitation, and secure payment transfers. Send pictures of the family or a video of a holiday gathering.
  • If apps prove to be intimidating, try sending a letter. Have picture printed out—old school style—and include them in your letters. Families are full of births, marriages, and so many other beautiful life events. Share them with your primos and primas who can’t be there with you. If you feel like you simply don’t want to communicate with your incarcerated family member, but you still want to contribute to the cause in some way, join a prison pen pal organization and bring a sense of human connection to others.
  • Another way to help the family behind bars is to send books. The organization, NYC books through bars, understands how much books can help with the rehabilitation and the education process in prison.
  • With vulnerable peoples such as the trans community,  women in prison, those with mental health needs, simply raising awareness on their behalf can be a radical act of kindness.
  • Another act of solidarity with your incarcerated family member is to donate to the ACLU Prisons Project. “Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, we work to ensure that conditions of confinement are consistent with health, safety, and human dignity and that prisoners retain all rights of free persons that are not inconsistent with incarceration.”

If you have a family member in prison, it is important to their own recovery and reformation to know they have people who love and support them.

Credit: aclu_nationwide / Instagram

With an array of opportunities to help our family members in prison, it is important to note that reintroduction to society can pose a major challenge for former inmates. These are areas where you can help too. Our imprisoned family members may have been victims of the system, they may have survived the only way they know how, or maybe they just made a mistake. Whatever the circumstance, the key is to remember they are human, and most importantly, they are familia. So ask yourself, for their sake and the sake of our community, what can you do to help?

READ: Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like

All This Time Sesame Street’s Big Bird And Plaza Sésamo’s Abelardo Were Primos, How Did I Not Know This?

Entertainment

All This Time Sesame Street’s Big Bird And Plaza Sésamo’s Abelardo Were Primos, How Did I Not Know This?

@bigbird / Twitter

Everybody’s favorite big birds, Big Bird and Abelardo, came together in a really sweet way this past weekend, melting the hearts of fans on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

Abelardo, the beloved giant parrot from Plaza Sésamo, visited his primo BIg Bird in Los Angeles and the two shared their time together all over social media and people, present company included, are freaking out. Seriously, it was so cute and we are so happy they got to spend time together. Family is everything.

I mean it all makes sense now. Looking back I don’t know how I didn’t connect the dots…

This cuteness overload all started when Abelardo announced that he’d be traveling to LA to visit his cousin Big Bird.

Abelardo took to his new Twitter account to announce his trip and seek some advice on what he should bring his cousin back in LA. Too freakin cute!

Albergado documented his trip as part of a publicity campaign in partnership with Mexican airline Aeromexico.

The cuteness factor leveled up times 10 once the primos were reunited in LA.

For real though. These cousins know how to have a good time together and we’re so happy for them. Once Abelardo and Big Bird hit the road, the real fun began.

Big Bird showed Abelardo all the top LA spots: they took photos in front of the Hollywood Sign, visited Big Bird’s star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, went on a search for the best birdseed milkshakes in all of LA, and even braved traffic to hit the beach.

Like it literally started with a happy dance!

I mean who knows how long it had been since the primos were together so we can totally understand just how happy the two must of been to see each other.

It was beautiful to see this positive message about family and unity in the times we’re living in.

These primos were full of excitement and love for another and we can’t think of a better message to share with kids, especially Latino ones, at a time when hatred towards Latinos is a threat to our lives.

Sure they’re just fictional characters but don’t underestimate the power of representation on TV. I mean just remember back to when you watched these programs as a kid and try and tell me they didn’t have an impact on you.

For many of us who grew up watching both Sesame Street and Plaza Sésamo, it was awesome to see the two come together.

Sesame Street aired on PBS while Univision was home to Plaza Sésamo in the US – which means many of us grew up watching both versions of the show. That, for many, made this reunion so much more special.

Though it turns out that this family road trip wasn’t the first time the two had met.

Back in 1997, Abelardo traveled from Mexico City to visit Big Bird for Cinco de Mayo. The two have to find each other after Oscar the Grouch, of course, picks Abelardo up from the airport without telling anyone. OMG…drama.

For many fans of the shows, the realization that the two were cousins made all the sense in the world.

And also…when can I go on an amazing trip like this with my primos?!

And for Abelardo, it was the best viaje of his life!

Big Bird shared a tender message: “See who came to visit me, my cousin Abelardo! We are going to look for milkshakes with birdseed milk”, “We live in different places, but families will always be together in our hearts, I had a lot of fun this weekend with my cousin. “