How do you speak Spanish so well?
I get this question all the time, especially on my frequent travels to Puerto Rico. People wonder if there’s some Spanish lineage in my family history? (No.) Am I secretly from the DomRep? (Also no.) Rossetta Stone? (Never tried it.)
Mrs. Rivera, my amazing elementary school Spanish teacher, certainly had a lot to do with it. Her recipes for coconut candy and empanadas made me hungry to learn. At the same time, though, one of the silliest TV shows of all time was playing a key role as well…
After School TV in 1970’s St. Croix
The show is called El Chavo del Ocho, and in my early days growing up in St. Croix it was well-beyond Must-See TV. Not because it was a great show, well-written with sterling acting performances, or anything like that. No, this show was essential TV viewing because THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE ON!
It was the 1970’s. The greatness of cable-TV had yet to be unleashed on entertainment-starved Crucian youths. We basically had five channels: ABC, CBS, PBS, WAPA, and Telemundo.
Sounds like a pretty good variety for the time, right? Surely us kids could find something decent to watch with five options, right?
Well, no. At least not during those prized after school hours. At that time of day, only WAPA and Telemundo played anything that even remotely resembled kids programming. Cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, the Flintstones, and more were all available for our consumption.
Language Problem Actually A Plus
Only problem was, the toons were all in Spanish.
WAPA and Telemundo programming were transmitted from Puerto Rico, so naturally it was all in Spanish. This presented a dilemma for us kids: either learn Spanish, or find something else to do.
Yeah, it was an easy choice; one that I really think helped me to learn Spanish as well as I did. Endless hours of watching Spanish-language kids programs helped to reinforce Mrs. Rivera’s daily teachings. It wasn’t long before I could understand exactly what Fred was yelling at Wilma about.
Typical Chavo del Ocho Craziness
More fun than that, though, was understanding all the mayhem and nonsense that El Chavo and his friends would get mixed up in every day. Just check out this video for a prime example…
El Chavo del Ocho, which originated in Mexico, still airs in select markets across the globe. When I was in Aruba a few years ago, I caught a couple episodes on a rainy afternoon. The show was even converted into an innovative animated series in 2006, ensuring that El Chavo and his pals would never grow up.
Few are the things take me back to my childhood in St. Croix quite like this ridiculous show from Mexico.
Fewer still are the things that continue to have as lasting an impact on my life today…
*Lead photo credit: Flickr user Eduardo Bertran.