by: Azul Uribe
My mother learned to speak English with the help of Bert & Ernie in the 70s. Every time I imagine it, it’s always some sepia toned version, like the fading pictures of that time. My mother sitting cross legged in a wood paneled room, the blue of her bell bottoms bright against the brown of the carpet, her waist length hair dark, and her big green eyes focused on flipping the cassette over to play the other side of the tape.
After all these decades my mother’s English still has a heavy accent and she can still sing “America The Beautiful” by heart. “Bert & Ernie!” she will say, and smile.
I didn’t live through that time period of my mother’s life but feel like I was there in some ghostly form because I can see it so vividly in my mind’s eye and I wonder if it has to do with how Bert & Ernie shaped my English too. It was different for me: a small television on top of a table in our Soda Springs, Idaho apartment. We’d come from a tropical climate and I struggled against the cold and all the side effects that came from being cooped up inside a confined space with two siblings when I was used to running and playing outside year round. I had always hated showering and so my rebellion took shape by avoiding it at all costs. At some point my mother had to travel and left my younger sister and I under the care of another family; my bashfulness fed my rebellion and I spent the entire week without a shower.
I don’t even know how it happened, but suddenly: Rubber duckie, you’re the one, who makes bath time lots of fun, rubber duckie I’m awfully fond of you!
I can’t type that without singing, and I can’t sing that without smiling. I go back to my mom’s soft voice as she washed the dishes, telling me that he liked baths and look how much fun he was having! I could have fun too when I showered (the lady knew her limits, bathing felt like a really weird idea as a kid and no matter how much I loved Ernie, I was not going to sit in something I thought of as a micro pool to clean myself)!
I guess it worked. After that I started watching Sesame Street when I could. My English was imperfect, but Grover was still funny while showing me other places and other kids I never imagined, and Count Dracula would say the numbers slowly enough for me to repeat after him. Sesame Street became at once a refuge and a kind teacher. When my classmates would make comments about my accent, I could emulate the kids on Sesame Street, and practice in a place where no one would make fun of me.
As the years passed on, I watched less but still, when babysitting or alone I would sneak a peek and giggle with Oscar or wait for Ernie to sing a song that I could sing back. Every time news of Sesame Street popped up it made my heart skip a beat- the inclusion of a muppet with a parent in jail, or an HIV positive one or from a divorced household or with autism. Sesame Street always had people who looked like me. It felt more realistic than many of the other shows I’d go on to watch because I, too, could exist there, without exceptions, just as a person.
It’s been many lives between the eight-year-old girl in that Idaho apartment and the woman that lives in Merida now, and I understand that some things will change. Nothing could have prepared me with the hurt and anger I felt when 45 proposed to have PBS canceled, because of all the things the U.S. has taken away from me that small one felt especially malicious. My mother sings “America the Beautiful” off key, but the memory of her song and her connection to the United States by it is unmistakable, just like my association to the song and to her.
This small speck of my story is not unique- there are so many who learn how to understand the new world they have been thrust into this way. Sesame Street may be geared towards children, but its reach is so much wider, helping people grapple with things like literacy and math and visibility, walking alongside them without being condescending. Sesame Street has been one of the best ambassadors the U.S. has ever had the pleasure to have, improving the lives of children world wide. In a world where the people in charge of education cannot tell the difference in the structures that are necessary to make education more accessible, where school budgets continue to be slashed, Sesame Street works to shrink that gap9. In a world where fear hangs heavy in the air, Sesame Street gives <a href=””>kindness</a>. The internet may be making the world smaller, but Sesame Street is a common thread between so many places- ground to unite and see ourselves, as ourselves.
I understand 45’s recommendations are just that. But the current state of affairs in the U.S. – with a GOP happily following and nodding to his every recommendation- leaves me overwhelmingly sad. While I have been prepared to live in a world where things will change and move and be gone until I am able to step on U.S. soil again, I never expected to have Sesame Street’s kindness and safety eradicated from my life.
America the beautiful should not be a question.
Azul Uribe is a deportee with only 2.5 years left of her 10 year ban. She also writes for other places including Rational Faiths and occasionally on her personal blog, Happy Cosmopolite. She likes dogs, cats, and all animals (and is working on overcoming her fear of possums). She hates pants, is working on a couple of projects she can’t wait to tell you about, and wishes she was eating Kimmie’s handmade s’mores.
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