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‘Sesame Street’ is U.S. ambassador to the world

Big Bird  |  Stan Honda~AFP/Getty Images

Big Bird | Stan Honda~AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: November 12, 2012 11:51AM

I grew up in Mexico, so I’m here to tell Mitt Romney: If he is sincere in wanting to strengthen America’s influence abroad, he really should lay off Big Bird.

I was 13 when “Sesame Street” was introduced in Mexico as Plaza Sesamo. It was the American show, but with a Mexican spin, and Mexican kids instantly fell in love with all of Jim Henson’s classic puppets and quite a few new ones, absorbing all that excellent educational content along the way.

Big Bird became Albelardo. Kermit the Frog became La Rana Rene. Bert and Ernie became Beto y Enrique. Grover became Archibaldo. And Count von Count became El Conde Contar. But the magic of the original show remained, and I suppose that was true wherever the show aired, in whatever language, from Brazil to Japan.

All over the world today, “Sesame Street” is one of the best ambassadors of the best American values. Sesame Street has introduced millions of people around the world — and not just kids — to a vision of America as a creative, educational, cooperative and fun place.

In 2009, the show’s 40th anniversary was seen in more than 140 countries, reaching an audience of well over 100 million viewers. Only the Super Bowl can rival Big Bird, Elmo and Grover.

Romney must know that, right? He must know that the U.S. government simply can’t buy that kind of amazing good-will marketing.

And “Sesame Street” works those same wonders right here at home, helping to sew together our very multicultural nation.

“Children who watch ‘Sesame Street’ not only learn the alphabet, numbers and colors, but also fundamental values that we share as a society,” Maricela Garcia, of the Gads Hills Center in the Pilsen neighborhood, told me.

Garcia is the first Latina CEO of the Gads Hill Center, a century-old community organization that serves low-income children through educational programs. Big Bird and “Sesame Street,” Garcia said, play a critical role in fulfilling that mission, and it would be a shame if short-sighted thinking led to a cut in government funding.

“Threatening to cut educational programs brings us back to putting the more vulnerable on the chopping block,” she said.

In the U.S., at least 74 million people have watched “Sesame Street,” including 8 million now every week. My two children, growing up in the late ’90s, were watching “Sesame Street” when Rosita, the first bilingual muppet, was introduced, reflecting demographic changes in this country.

By now, we all know that Romney’s plan to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would reduce the federal deficit by a fraction of 1 percent. But we also know that this dispute is less about money than about ideology.

Republicans have been waging war against PBS for years, seeing it as part of a liberal media that is ruining the country.

Romney did not expect such a popular uproar in defense of Big Bird, which might be because he’s just too disconnected from middle-class and working poor Americans.

Or he would have known: You don’t mess with Big Bird.

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