Moving from the Dominican Republic to Miami as a small child was a smooth transition for Juanita Dilia Olivo.
“Because Miami is predominantly Hispanic, I personally never felt like I was out of place,” said the actress and singer, currently appearing in “Sesame Street Live!” at Madison Square Garden. “You hear Spanish on every corner.”
She soon realized that is not the case all over the U.S.
“It was a bit of a reality check,” Olivo said about discovering some negative attitudes toward immigrants and bilingual children. “We’ve still got a bit of a ways to go.”
She said Sesame Street’s live show continues a tradition started with its acclaimed television series by introducing children to different cultures, and promoting an empowering message for bilingual kids: embrace your heritage.
“It’s important for kids to have pride in their own culture,” Olivo said. “Every culture can teach us something new.”
The show follows Sesame Street favorites Elmo, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Abby Cadabby and others on a lively, musical adventure. One of the highlights for Olivo is singing “Spanish Me, English Me” with Rosita, the bubbly, blue bilingual muppet.
“For me that was so very, very fun,” she said. “Even the dance number has a salsa influence. And the lyrics are very recognizable for kids. She talks about putting salsa on her French fries.”
Olivo, who has a background in theater, said performing in New York City is a special experience.
“People here are vibrant and dynamic,” she said. “When the audience brings that energy it makes all of our performances even more electric.”