Friday, March 11, 2022

F ³ Remembering Old Friends/Sesame Street

Sunny Day

Sweepin' the clouds away

On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get?

How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play

Everything's A-OK

Friendly neighbors there

That's where we meet

Can you tell me how to get

How to get to Sesame Street

It's a magic carpet ride

Every door will open wide

To happy people like you

Happy people like

What a beautiful

Sunny Day

Sweepin' the clouds away

On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,

How to get to Sesame Street...

How to get to Sesame Street

How to get to...

(Songwriters: Joseph G. Raposo, Jon Stone, Bruce Hart)

Emilio Delgado, the actor who played the character of Luis on Sesame Street for more than forty years, has died at the age of eighty-one. Notifications of his passing took me on a long and winding path of memories of the venerable educational children’s show, which premiered in 1969.

I remember being huddled around our black and white tv in the living room as my mother tried to tune in the UHF channel just right. We had to roll the television pretty close to the couch to make out the picture. As the youngest of three children, I was ten, hardly the target audience for the show. But, honestly, it wasn’t the educational content that drew us to Sesame Street.

It was the Muppets. We were huge Muppets fans. We always tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show when we knew they were appearing. And that year that the Muppets hosted the summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers was a delight. We were hard-core Muppet fans. 

I wanted to see Kermit.

I can’t remember how much of the early years of the show I actually watched. Reception was terrible in those days. But I can tell you that over the years I have watched way more Sesame Street than most ordinary people, not just as a child but also through raising two children and a career in early childhood education. 

Luis and Maria figured in many story lines when my younger daughter was little. They are definitely major characters in a video entitled “Elmo Saves Christmas” which I eventually broke down and hid after multiple daily viewings long past Christmas. I remember what a big deal it was in later years when they turned their Fix-It Shop into a Mail-It Shop. 

Sesame Street was responsible for possibly the scariest moment I’ve ever had on the internet. It was probably around 1999 and I was learning how to search things, and I wanted information on how Sesame Street prepared young children for school. Instead, I accidentally clicked on a link that turned out to be from some American Nazi group, complaining at length about how dangerous the show was.

Dangerous? Why?

The writer deemed Sesame Street dangerous and damaging to white children because it showed them being happy in urban settings, when everyone knew that real white children were drawn to healthy, natural, even rural settings. Only Black and Brown people belonged in crowded, dirty, urban settings. In addition, Sesame Street showed white children being happy around people of other races, when everyone knew that white children and white people were naturally happiest around other whites.

The chill I felt going up my spine as I read these words cannot be adequately described. I left the site. I signed out of my personal account on the computer. I turned off the whole dang computer. I went to bed and hugged a pillow for a good long time, trying to get those words out of my head.

Sesame Street has changed a lot over the years. Honestly, I haven’t liked all the changes, but then, the show has a particular mission and it isn’t to please me personally. I miss Roosevelt Franklin, Teeny Little Superguy, and Kermit the Frog doing on the scene news reports from fairy tales in action.

But I never lose sight of the fact the every person who has ever worked on the show, or donated money to keep it going, is engaged in an educational and transformational quest that is as much about human kindness and empathy as it is about school readiness.

I hesitate to use the word “hero” because it has come to mean someone who can be relied upon to do superhuman things while getting no respect and receiving appallingly low pay. Setting that pathetic definition aside, I do think people like Emilio Delgado, Caroll Spinney, Joan Ganz Cooney and many, many others who have contributed to Sesame Street are heroes. Not only for their work in the past and in the present but in how the show is continually shaping the future.

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