One of American television’s few Latino characters, Sesame Street’s Luis, Emilio Delgado, passed on Thursday at the age of 89. He was 81 years old at the time.
His widow, Carol Delgado, confirmed to the AP that he succumbed to myeloma at their residence in New York from the disease. For Delgado, it was a rare opportunity to portray a non-stereotypical Mexican American character on television, whether for kids or adults.
Within “Famous Cast Words,” Delgado said that he felt there was “no portrayal of genuine people.” Brigands and street gangs accounted for the majority of the parts I auditioned for.
With “Sesame Street,” Jim Henson’s characters Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, and Grover engaged with a varied ensemble of youngsters. In 1971, when the program was in its third installment, Delgado was added to the cast. Producers, he said, were enthusiastic about his notion to include Spanish words in the story.
The first time I saw Big Bird, my reaction was, “Big Bird!”” “Big Bird!” According to Delgado’s 2021 statement. It’s not that I spoke the word “Big Bird,” but rather, “pájaro!” Delgado clarified to the directors that “pájaro” signified “bird” in a brief discussion, and they agreed to leave it in. After that, Delgado referred to him as “pájaro” whenever he saw him.
Originally from Mexicali, Mexico, Delgado was born in Calexico, California, on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1940 and reared there. He would listen to music from two bars and pubs across the road all night long from the comfort of his own house. “Up Close with Patsy Smullin” had him saying, “I recall falling asleep to the music of mariachis.”
As a result of his parents’ enthusiastic encouragement, he chose to pursue a career as a musician, singing in church choirs and starring in school plays. To become an artist, he traveled to Los Angeles during his youthful days, but he had little success. The “Sesame Street” executives in New York called him out of the blue.
Delgado was hired following a meeting with “Sesame Street” creator Jon Stone, in which Stone talked with Delgado without requesting an audition. In a 2021 conversation, Delgado remarked, “He didn’t want performers.” “He was looking for genuine people,” he said.
He would appear on the program for 45 years, becoming a beloved part of many children’s lives and an uncommon role model for Latino youngsters.
“His warmth and humor invited children to share a friendship that has echoed through generations,” the Sesame Workshop said in a statement Thursday night. “At the forefront of representation, Emilio proudly laid claim to the ‘record for the longest-running role for a Mexican-American in a TV series.’ We are so grateful he shared his talents with us and with the world.”
Sonia Manzano portrayed Maria Figueroa, the other famous Latina on the program who was married to Luis in 1988.
When his agreement was not extended throughout a reworking in 2016, Delgado quit the program. Despite being confirmed with myeloma in early 2020, he continued to attend and do interviews throughout 2021 until his condition began to deteriorate.