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I have interviewed Rosa Parks, Michael Stipe and the funny guy who sang (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake your Booty with K.C. & the Sunshine Band. There have also been national politicians and country singers and corporate muckety-mucks. They are footnotes in a long career as nosy reporter.
Rosa Parks was a privilege, for sure. The rest of the famous were interesting, but I am not sure meeting, or talking to, any of them made me as giddy as meeting Ana Margarita Menendez, who played Carmencita on ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.?, a television program I watched as a kid in Miami. It ran from 1977 to 1980.
I met her Sunday at Cuba Nostalgia, a weekend event where the food, music and culture of Cuba de ayer is celebrated by the young and old alike.
Marta and I asked her if she would allow us to film her explaining exactly what “the tiki tiki” is to those who don’t understand it. She agreed, offered up this video, and then I hugged her. And she was gracious. (You can see the video we made at Cuba Nostalgia here.)
Thinking about why I got so excited, I can only reason that besides being supremely funny, the show offered up the first look of what it is like to live Latino in a new country. To speak two languages, to balance two cultures and move between the push and the pull of both.
As a young girl watching, it was the only time I saw myself — my experience — on television and honestly, nothing else has come close in the three decades since. At least, for me.
When my husband and I got married, I had him watch ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? so he’d get it. When he saw me laugh until the tears came, he got it. Even if he only understood half of what they were saying, he knew that the words and actions on the little screen reached me, explained me.
When my 6-year-old is old enough to get it, I will sit her down for marathons of ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? too. I think it will help her better understand the crazy, funny I come from. And maybe by then, there will be something in pop culture that truly captures her multi-cultural experience too.