I spend a good deal of time watching Sesame Street with my toddler. It’s fun, it’s educational– it creeps me out to no end (am I the only one who doesn’t really care for Big Bird?), but it’s teaching the alphabet, and how to count to my daughter (and millions of other kids). It’s diverse too. Luis and Maria represent a stable and educated Hispanic household, and are a good example of Nuyorican family life. There’s even a Latina muppet. Rosita.
Rosita originally came to Sesame Street in 1991, when I was at the tail end of my watching it, and my little brother was just getting into it. Did you know she originally had wings? Like a fruit bat. Rosita the fruit bat. Rosita the bilingual guitar playing Mexican fruit bat. Her and her familia lived in a cave. Today, Rosita seems to have lost her wings. I’m glad there are Hispanic monster-muppets. I’m also glad they no longer look like furry bat demons. But there’s one thing that still really bothers me about Rosita.
Before you tell me to talk to a therapist regarding my freudian muppet nudity hangups, I know that they aren’t real and that make- believe things aren’t bound to the same societal dress codes as everyone else. I also know that Elmo and Telly are monsters that don’t wear clothes.
But why doesn’t Rosita have any clothes? The two other girl monster-muppets that Rosita spends most of her time with wear clothes. Zoe wears a tutu. Abby wears that fairy getup. Rosita can’t have a dress too? A t-shirt? A poncho? Does long fur an outfit make?
There are different levels of monster many of which are naked. There are the animal-esque monsters that just make noise (like the honkers), there are the human-like talking and interacting with actual language monsters (like the naked Telly and Elmo). Then there are the little girl monsters. They all wear clothes except for Rosita.
Rosita is an important part of Sesame Street. She shows kids that being bilingual is cool, and that having an accent is normal and fun and that even muppets can come from places like Mexico. Maybe my Rosita nudity concerns are just me being crazy. Maybe they come from that women’s studies class I took in college and I’m seeing fully clothed Zoe and Abby as being symbolically dominant over naked Rosita. Maybe I’m the only one who’s bothered by it or has even noticed it. Rosita being naked, especially next to all of her fully clothed friends makes me angry. I’m not accusing Sesame Street muppet designers of racism or misogyny, but it makes me angry.
Naked Latina monster-muppets don’t just hang out on Sesame Street either. Lola from Plaza Sesamo does not wear clothes (nobody there does). Abigail, the resident girl monster-muppet from Rechov Sumsum (the Israeli version) does. Just saying.
Mexico has a rich and colorful design and fashion culture that would fit in well with the semi-patronizing bilingual segments on the show. Hispanics represent 16 percent of the United States now. I think that’s enough for us to no longer be a novelty. It’s also enough for Rosita to get a freaking t-shirt. Since Sesame Street is perpetually at risk of losing its government funding, maybe some clothes for Rosita would be a good merchandising opportunity.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.