¿Qué Pasa, USA? The first bilingual sitcom celebrates 40 years

March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Steven Bauer may play tough guys in movies like Scarface, may have changed his name from Rocky Echevarría, married and fathered a son with Melanie Griffith, but before all of that he played in the sitcom ¿Qué Pasa, USA? The Cuban-American teenager, Joe, trapped in a culture clash with his parents and abuelos, was a lot like Bauer and his friends, the children of exiles who came of age in 70s Miami wearing bell-bottom jeans, dating under the scrutinizing gaze of chaperones, and dancing to a unique mix of disco and salsa at the weekend “Open House” at banquet halls. “I’m completely a product of Miami,” says Bauer, now 54. More than the 1st bilingual sitcom, ¿Qué Pasa, USA? is a communal experience for Cuban-Americans everywhere and a cultural marker for what living in Miami was like in the 70s, a time of change for newcomers struggling to adapt to a new country and long-time residents who had to deal with people who spoke a different language and brought a rambunctious new culture to the scene. Luis Santeiro wrote the scripts that gave the country’s public tv viewers the Peña family of Miami, 3 generations under one roof: teen brother and sister Joe and Carmen; their parents Juanita and Pepe; and abuelos Antonio and Adela, who measured every new experience against what used to happen in Cuba. Just as important to the humor were American characters like the Sharon, Carmen’s best friend, and a trickle of guest characters including the Immigration officer who attempted to give the abuelos their citizenship test. The sitcom’s 39 episodes, 4 seasons’ worth, were made with a $250,000 grant from what was then called the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, with the mandate to address contemporary issues like drugs, sex and peer pressure while teaching English to Spanish speakers and Spanish to English speakers. Hence the strict guidelines that the languages be kept at a 50-50 ratio and that they both be easily understood within the context of the story. (miami herald)

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