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What Sesame Street's Newest Latino Character Means To Me

It's been 42 years since Sesame Street made television history when they cast the first Latina lead character on the show. During that time we've all fallen in love with Maria and Luis, played by Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado, and some of us have even secretly dreamed we lived with them on Sesame Street. Their joyful, zany characters have made us laugh and feel good about ourselves. I've watched them grow into their current roles resembling a beloved tío and tía, whose warm friendship I look forward to sharing with my own children. But they aren't the only Spanish-speaking characters on Sesame Street. I would imagine that most of us have embraced Rosita and Ovejita, the bilingual puppets whose playful and gentle demeanors have entertained and educated our children, too.

Since the auditions that took place last fall, however, I've been waiting and wondering about the new character. I thought that maybe the he or she would be another bilingual puppet, but he is, in fact, definitely human—and I am so overjoyed.

¿Por qué? Because now, a new generation of Latino children will have the opportunity to see their own faces and experiences reflected in the popular children's show. Our kids need to be able to find role models in the shows they watch; role models that reflect their own culture, or a similar one, help our kids to dream big. They plant the idea in our children's heads that maybe they themselves can do something great, too. I want my kids to be motivated to become the hero and heroine in their own life story. Too often, our kids think that they don't have any control or choice in the paths they take. They need to be inspired to grab the reins and take over which direction life is going to take them.

That's a lot of pressure, I think, for Ismael Cruz Cordova, who was selected to play the third Latino character, Armando (aka "Mando"), on Sesame Street. But that's the beauty of youth. You have the energy and the willingness to shoulder big loads—and hopefully the ability to do it well. Cordova, 26, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He says he learned English by watching Sesame Street. I have to say that I find that comforting. For them to hire a person who is familiar with the show and knows first-hand its role in a child's life—especially a Latino child's life—tells me that the producers are trying to maintain the integrity of the show and hire someone who understands the responsibility that goes with teaching thousands of children across the country, and maybe even the world.

I watched this video with Ismael, and I think that what excites me even more is the fact that his character, Mando, is a writer who writes everything—poetry, scripts, plays, short films, and songs. Wow! We're focusing on literacy here, people! What a great gift Sesame Street is giving our children. It will be interesting to see how the show portrays his character this season, in which I've read they'll be focusing more on Latino culture.

Mando is also supposed to be very into technology, which I think a lot of children can relate to. Add to this Ismael's affable face, energetic hair, and fluency in both English and Spanish, and I think our kids will find a character that they can look up to. I'm certainly keeping my fingers crossed.

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