This morning my son Jack, aged 3, happens to be watching Sesame Street as I sat down to write this post. I smiled to myself as I opened the blog and happened to hear the conversation between Telly and the other characters. Many of the characters are the same as they were when I was 3, but now they speak in Spanish as often as they do in English in some episodes. In fact, in this episode, Telly explores the many countries, traditions, and experiences of his Sesame Street friends, who hail from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Peru and other Spanish-speaking nations. True to his personality, Telly is overwhelmed by the many Spanish speakers and the various countries they lived in prior to coming to Sesame Street. Three things strike me as significant in this episode.
One, Spanish and Spanish-speaking individuals (monsters and people) are not a singular, homogeneous group. Rather, Sesame Street works hard to demonstrate the wide variety of people and cultures that happen to speak Spanish. By doing so, Sesame Street is reflecting the complex reality of Spanish-speaking immigration to the United States. Those of us involved with TWIN schools should be just as aware of the diversity within our classrooms, a diversity that goes beyond language use.
Two, Telly comes to represent the 'old' America, which is exposed to Spanish and Spanish-speakers but is predominantly English-speaking. His quick education about South America, Central America and the Caribbean is, in a way, a commentary about rapid changes happening in many American cities.
And three, my son (and my daughter) are somewhere in between, as are many American children who would be categorized as monolingual English speaking. Most of my son's cousins have one parent who is Hispanic and often Spanish-speaking, many of whom are Puerto Rican. My children aren't phased by Spanish and happen to know a few phrases in Spanish, some typically Hispanic foods, and some cultural traditions. Part of this is because of the time they spent in Texas, where we used to live, and partly due to their cousins, but more than that, it is now part of American culture. I am guessing that my children's generation will not view Spanish or Hispanic/Latino culture as something foreign but something familiar and perhaps even American.
The Sesame Street episode included a dance number with all the monster characters and people dancing to upbeat music in front of an array of South American, Central American, and Caribbean flags. They were celebrating the Spanish speaking festival and now Telly could understand it. Sesame Street has already embraced my children's generation and are celebrating in their diversity.
Once again, Sesame Street is leading the way.
-Mary Bridget Burns