In my opinion

Ana Veciana-Suarez: New ‘Sesame Street’ character reveals where we are, where we hope to go

Mando is moving to Sesame Street this fall. Did you get the announcement?

I did, and as a longtime fan of the PBS show, I read the details with great interest. It’s not every day that a new neighbor joins Big Bird and the beloved cast of Muppets and real people.

That’s the thing about Sesame Street. There’s a sweet stability in this program, an educational earnestness that is both comforting and addictive. As parents we feel less guilty about plopping the kiddies in front of the set if they’re watching Elmo or Bert and Ernie.

So when a new character joins the cast, it makes news. Especially if that character is identified as Latino, a nod to the largest minority in the United States at 50 million strong.

Last week, producers released the identity of Armando, Mando for short, a bilingual writer who lives in Brooklyn and loves technology and social media. The actor playing him, Ismael Cruz Cordova, is a Puerto Rico native with a degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He learned ingles watching Street as a kid. Though he won’t make his debut until the show’s 44th season in September, Mando has come across in interviews as warm and adorable, a real mensch. (Forgive my cross-cultural reference, but the word fits perfectly.)

He’ll be part of a program that has always celebrated diversity. In 1971, long before we Latinos became the flavor of the month, long before it was market-smart to be inclusive, Maria (Sonia Manzano) and Luis (Emilio Delgado) were singing on Sesame Street. Rosita, the turquoise Mexican Muppet who goes back and forth between English and Spanish, was introduced in 1993. Mando adds what the show’s executive producer calls “a culturally fluid and deeply layered new generation of Hispanic Americans.”

Shortly before Mando was introduced, a kerfuffle erupted in the political arena when former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson questioned Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Hispanic credentials, saying the Republican was anti-immigration because Cruz doesn’t think that illegal immigrants should get a path to citizenship.

Though the two incidents appear unrelated, believe me they’re not. Both underscore that even as our country evolves, even as diversity has become the buzzword du jour, we are a long way from acceptance. From others, from ourselves. Consider the description of ethnicity that precedes the announcement of a new TV star. Consider, too, the attacks on the authenticity of anyone who dares to disagree with a minority group’s mainstream stance on immigration.

As a woman once accused of being “too white” in college, as a grandmother to three tow-headed, blue-eyed girls and their two brunette cousins, I cringe at any hint that I’m not enough of one thing or another, that any group I belong to must be monolithic in its thoughts and ideas. When we stereotype ourselves, we put each other in boxes that contradict both our history and our varied heritages.

I hope to live long enough to see the day when a hyphenated identity is not required, when a Mando makes news not because he’s Latino but because he can sing and dance to beat the band. Because, regardless of how we look or where our ancestors came from, it’s a sunny day and the air is sweet and the doors open wide everywhere, not just on Sesame Street.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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