I was in the first generation of kids who grew up with Sesame Street. Even at a young age, I recognized how rare it was to see fellow Latinos on television, much less a happily married, well-adjusted couple like Maria and Luis.
I wasn’t even traumatized when Grover would get all quiet, lean in to whisper to a little Hispanic child, and then start shouting and waving his spindly arms around. Seriously, he did that a lot.
So the Baby Boomers, as they are wont to do, are ready to take the money and run. Apparently, many older entrepreneurs will soon sell off their business and retire.
Well, we shouldn’t worry. After all, entrepreneurialism is a cornerstone of the fabled American Dream, and small businesses drive the economy. So I’m sure some young, smart, hardworking go-getters will keep the new ideas coming…unless of course, we’ve decimated education, promoted ignorance, and ravaged the social safety net to the point that we are unleashing a generation ill-equipped to tap into their own creativity.
As President Bush once famously asked, “Is our children learning?”
Well, in everybody’s favorite state — Arizona — the answer seems to be a resounding no… assuming of course, that we’re talking about Latino kids.
Recently, during a legislative debate in Phoenix, a Republican state representative “stirred up gasps and anger” when she read a letter aloud from one of her constituents.
The letter writer, a substitute teacher named Tony Hill, claimed that he taught in a classroom where his students “were almost all Hispanic and a couple of Black children.” Hill wrote that the students boycotted the Pledge of Allegiance, called him a racist, refused to do their assignments, and even tore apart their textbooks.
Hill summarized his experience by writing that “Most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters. They hate America and are determined to reclaim this area for Mexico.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Hispanics now make up a record percentage of the American population. The U.S. Census says that one out of every six residents is Latino. Furthermore, in a “surprising show of growth, Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade.”
However, not everyone is grateful, or particularly thrilled, about this fact. In fact, quite a few Americans are angry, anxious, or just plain freaked out over the ascendency of Hispanics in the United States.
Wait, let’s try that intro again. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not sufficiently bilingual to be dazzling all the time and avoid slip-ups, malapropisms, and brain freezes. In fact, if I spoke Spanish better, I would be a lot more confident of fighting off Alzheimer’s as I get older.
At least that’s the conclusion of “neuroscience researchers [who] are increasingly coming to a consensus that bilingualism has many positive consequences for the brain.”
Whatever happened to the controversy over bilingual education? I don’t mean that the topic has gone away or been resolved.
However, with all the hysteria over immigration and assimilation and undocumented Latinos stealing our jobs… well, it just seems like the debate over the best way to educate immigrant children with poor English skills has been rendered quaint.
Perhaps this is because English-immersion appears to be the de facto winner. Teaching immigrant kids in their native language seems to be a 1970s concept — like gun control and no-nuke rallies — that failed to accomplish much.
Recently, one of the greatest television shows of all time celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Of course, I’m talking about “Sesame Street,” that funky slice of 1970s America that continues to teach and inspire children today.
I’m sure most of us can recall the songs, characters, and lessons that the show imprinted on us. I was lucky enough to watch the show pre-Elmo, so I got the real deal:
“Sesame Street” was the first, and for a number of years, the only show where I saw people who looked like my family. I mean, who can forget Luis and Maria?
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how revolutionary Jim Henson’s approach was. The guy didn’t just throw in a few minor characters who were different races, which still would have been considered groundbreaking for the time. He made Latinos and blacks key members of the community, even if the block on which they all congregated was strangely free of sunlight every day of the year (maybe they lived in Seattle).
“Sesame Street” was also one of the first programs on which I heard Spanish. And it wasn’t just flavoring. The show went out of its way to teach basic Spanish words and phrases. I have to assume that if the show debuted today, it would be criticized for teaching the invaders’ language, and funding would be threatened unless all on-air business was conducted in English.
Indeed, I’ve heard of some parents who forbid their children to watch “Sesame Street” because of its perceived liberal agenda. I truly hope that this is an urban myth. Otherwise, someone is going to have to explain to me what is so “liberal” about racial tolerance and basic literacy.
But for the most part, “Sesame Street” has been grandfathered from the culture wars. MSNBC points out that the show “modeled the kind of racial idealism we should continually strive for” but that it “wasn’t just some idyllic land where no one ever disagreed…. It was a place where everyone always talked and continued talking.”