I can count the number of Latino role models on television on one hand. There was Erik Estrada on Chips, and Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado (Maria and Luis) from Sesame Street and of course Rita Moreno on Electric Company. Those were the only Latino role models television had to offer when I was a kid. They were great, but there weren’t that many.
Starting in the Fall, Ismael Cruz Cordova will join the growing number of Hispanics on television when he becomes Sesame Street’s first Latino cast member that has been added since 1971. He’ll play Armando, a bilingual poet and singer who will share his poetry skills with Rosita, the show’s Latina Muppet that was added to the show in 1993. I was able to interview Cordova and Rosita from Sesame Street at the PBS Annual Meeting last month.
From what I’ve seen of Cordova, he will be an amazing role model for kids and young adults. The actor and singer was picked after Sesame Street held its first ever open casting call in search of a bilingual character for the show. They wanted the right person, not necessarily a male or female from a specific Latino culture.
Cordova wanted to be part of the show because it had such a huge impact on him as a child. He grew up without a lot of money in a rural area of Puerto Rico where illiteracy was not uncommon. He felt disenfranchised. “You don’t really grow up with the notion that you have a voice,” he said. Sesame Street was the first place on television where he saw people that looked like him and that’s so important for kids to see themselves represented on television. “I felt like I mattered.”
He grew up with the show and credits it with helping teach him English. He was a nationally ranked swimmer in Puerto Rico and got into a private high school. For him “swimming was the bridge to the upper class.” He discovered performing and knew he wanted to be an actor. He described it as what many people feel when they’ve met their mate, the feeling of being accepted. After high school he went to NYU as a transfer student and later went on to work on off Broadway plays and guest star on “The Good Wife.”
Performing isn’t just about being on stage for him, it’s also been a tool for advocacy and social change. Cordova doesn’t take his role on Sesame Street lightly.
From everything I heard from him and read about him after, I think he will be an amazing addition to the show (plus he sings and dances!). Here are a few other Latino role models on television and in the media who are doing great things.
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Disclosure: I interviewed Cruz Cordova as part of my role as a PBS Kids VIP (Very Important Parent) at the PBS Annual Meeting. I was provided transportation and lodging but was not compensated. All opinions are my own.