Emilio Delgado, who died March 10 at the age of 81, played Luis, the Fix-It Shop owner on Sesame Street, for more than four decades.
When I first met Emilio, in the late sixties, I thought he was an activist for the Cesar Chavez Farm Workers Union, because as a supporter he went around pinning Boycott Grapes buttons on everyone he came into contact with! Ultimately, his social consciousness didn’t end there.
Days later, I realized he was one of us: a child of the ’60s and an actor happy to have a job. He could not have realized the impact he would have, especially on Latino children. My nephew, who is now in his 50s, told me that as a little boy, he wanted to grow up and become a man like Luis. How wonderful that Emilio’s strength, warmth, and kindness were attractive enough for children to want to emulate.
Sesame Street always wanted the human cast members to be themselves, and in allowing Emilio to be himself they hit the jackpot.
In 1988, my character [Maria] and Luis had a widely watched onscreen wedding. At that time, Latinos on television were the butt of a joke. Our wedding presented flesh-and-blood Latinos wanting the same things out of life as other Americans. To love, get married, have a baby, send them to daycare, go camping. Our affection for each other came through so strongly people thought we had really gotten married. And even after correcting a woman once, telling her we were not really married, she quipped, “No worries, as long as you really love each other!”
Emilio held children in high regard, saw adults as individuals, always defended the underdog, and was eternally positive. His son pointed this out to me: At Emilio’s mother’s funeral when all mourners sadly looked down, he looked up. No doubt searching for life’s possibilities. I will miss him.
—As told to Sanya Mansoor
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