Video by Maria Eugenia Alcon
Ismael Cruz Córdova arrived in New York City from rural Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, bright-eyed and bushy-haired at 19 to pursue a career in acting. Six years later, he’s already won an HOLA and ACE award and landed a recurring role on the CBS drama “The Good Wife.” Today, “Sesame Street” announced Cruz Córdova will be making his debut as “Mando,” the new Latino character on the children’s television series, on PBS Kids, on September 16.
Cruz Córdova was the one chosen out of hundreds who tried out for the new “Sesame Street” personality. Open-call auditions took place August of 2012, in New York City, in the search for a new Hispanic character.
“I feel like the luckiest big kid in the world,” says Cruz Córdova, excitedly. “I made it to Sesame Street!”
He says he felt like “Mando” was the perfect character for him, because of his story, where he comes from, and what he represents. The 26-year-old remembers learning his first words with “Sesame Street” as a little boy in the mountainous region of Puerto Rico.
“My mom used to sit us down to watch the show on a black and white TV,” he says, remembering his favorite characters, The Count and Snuffleupagus. “Seeing people represent me physically, also ideologically and culturally…was just incredible, and it’s real. ‘Sesame Street’ is just a real thing to people, and for kids, and to me, still.”
Seeing characters resemble himself on “Sesame Street” opened his bluish-green eyes to new possibilities. He says he started acting professionally at age 15, and when he became positive the craft was his passion, he moved to New York City to study at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
The well-rounded television and theater actor is ready to play a role more like himself.
“The character Mando is in many ways similar to me,” says Cruz Córdova. “He’s creative, energetic, very keen to self-expression.”
And he’s excited to teach kids about his Puerto Rican culture through song and dance.
“It’s very important to me…in the times we’re living in. Hispanics are growing in population in the U.S., and it’s just a time for diversity,” he says.
“Sesame Street” has had a long-standing history of promoting diversity. Cruz Córdova will be joining “Maria,” played by Sonia Manzano, “Luis,” played by Emilio Delgado, and Muppets “Rosita” and “Ovejita” (Carmen Osbahr) as part of “Sesame Street’s” bilingual community.
“We knew as soon as we met Ismael that he was the perfect addition to our neighborhood,” said Carol-Lynn Parente, executive producer of “Sesame Street.” “Like his character ‘Mando,’ Ismael represents a culturally fluid and deeply layered new generation of Hispanic-Americans. He has a passion for creative expression and a warmth that comes right through the camera.”
Cruz Córdova will also be on the big screen later this year in the action-thriller “In the Blood,” starring Danny Trejo. The film is currently in post-production.