Before Dora the Explorer amassed a following of toddlers shouting Spanish words at their television screens, Sesame Street introduced it's own monster who would capitalize on the fact that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S. The show had already proved itself to be a worth advocate for multiculturalism, as the human characters came from a diverse ethnic background. Luis and Maria were Mexican and Puerto-Rican respectively, and they would occasionally teach Big Bird and the others about their language and cultures. But children needed a puppet character to call their own. And so, Rosita, la Monstrua de las Cuevas, flew on to the scene. Literally.
Tonight, we dahnce!
This alteration was not as controversial as Snuffy's nasal reduction surgery.
Her "Spanish Word of the Day" segments became a regular feature, but this did not deny her from having her own storylines and personality. While all of the main puppets on the street came in a variety of colors, they all shared a culture, making it easy to put Rosita in the "different" category. But Rosita's language did not define her and no one treated her any differently. People she met were eager to learn her language and teach her English as well so that everyone could better understand each other.
This wasn't Sesame Street's first attempt at connecting with a Latin American audience. Back in the early '70s, when the series was still brand new, the producers decided it would be best to bring the goodness of the Street to a wider audience, strengthening North and Central American relations in the process.
In 1972, Plaza Sésamo first aired. Like most international versions of Sesame Street, the show was just a repackaged version of the original with a new language dubbed over the English dialogue and new street scenes containing a different human and puppet cast. During these early years, the show was just Sesame Street with a coat of Spanish paint. There were practically no allusions to the fact that this show was set in Mexico. It wasn't until later reboots that Mexican culture was made a part of the setting and character histories.
The international Sesame Streets tend to only have a few unique puppets to add to the cast. The two that Plaza Sésamo began with were a green parrot named Paco and a large orange crocodile named Abelardo, who served as the resident Oscar and Big Bird substitutes.
Also, everyone lived in a series of tubes.
After the first reboot in the '80s, the two characters seemed to have been combined into the new Abelardo, who looked more like Big Bird and was officially classified as Big Bird's cousin. This Abelardo started off as dopey and gullible, as the new grouch in town Bodoque would constantly pull pranks on him. After the second reboot in the '90s, Abelardo became more like the Big Bird we know today and he was joined by some kinder puppet friends.
Abelardo, Lola, Pancho Contreras and some visitors from the American cast.
In 1997, during a special Cinco de Mayo episode of Sesame Street, Abelardo was invited to the show in order to meet Big Bird face-to-face for the first time on American television.
As the language barrier proved difficult for Abelardo to get around Sesame Street, Spanish speaking children at home could relate to the situation. Being placed in environments where everyone expects you to speak a non-native language is hard on anyone, let alone a child Abelardo's age. Fortunately, after dealing with the setbacks of grouches and near-misses, Abelardo and Big Bird are able to reunite and share in experiences that do not require language to enjoy.
Together, like dos aves del mismo plumaje!
Sesame Street is known for it's universal appeal and it's devotion to the Latin American youth is just another attribute that helps give it credence. It's one thing to simply teach a language. It's another to focus on the confusion and loneliness that can be felt by a young child for whom English is a second language. Language is not just comprehension. It's interaction. It's connection. It's comunicación.