Mexican-American actor Emilio Delgado, a decades-long fixture on PBS’ Sesame Street, has passed away. Delgado was 81. He died in New York City several years after being diagnosed with blood cancer multiple myeloma, leaving behind an immense legacy from both his work with the Children’s Television Workshop and his own performances, which included film, television, theater, and music. Delgado was an early and prominent Latin presence on television, and tirelessly worked throughout his life to develop cultural communication and to dispel notions of harmful stereotypes.
Emilio Delgado was born in Calexico, California in 1940. He spent much of his early life living with his grandparents across the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexicali; during this time, he regularly walked across the border to attend school in America and return to Mexico after lessons. He served in The National Guard during the Vietnam War (being vocally opposed to American involvement there) and eventually moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He struggled to find acting jobs for nearly a decade, and eventually became involved with the California Institute of the Arts, with whom he would continue a relationship for the rest of his life. Like so many Latin actors, Delgado was eventually cast in a soap opera. In his case, it was the first Mexican-American drama, Cancion de la Raza, which portrayed the struggles of life in East L.A. of the time period.
His big break would happen when he was cast on Sesame Street in 1971. The incredible popularity of the publicly-funded children’s program had drawn a number of requests from various groups to diversify and expand their voice. As such, the show initially tried to implement Spanish lessons into the program in the second season, but by the third, actually cast Latin actors in the show. Emilio Delgado was brought in as Luis, the proprietor of Sesame Street’s The Fix-It Shop. In the early years, Delgado was often paired with Puerto-Rican actor Raul Julia, who appeared on four episodes. While Delgado did not originally envision the role of Luis as being the part he was eventually best known for (or even that it would last more than a year or two), he ended up part of the show until 2016. It is believed that this is a record for longevity of any Mexican-American playing one character on television.
Following the retooling of Sesame Street in 2016, Emilio Delgado’s contract was not renewed. He did remain on good terms with the Children’s Television Workshop, being named coordinator of their Bilingual Task Force and traveling around the United States to help spread Hispanic culture and language. Like many character actors who have passed away recently, Delgado will be primarily remembered for one aspect of his career. But while his role as Luis on Sesame Street was his longest-running and most famous part, he also acted in many television series like Lou Grant, Law & Order, and House of Cards, as well as hundreds of theatrical performances. Emilio Delgado will be remembered by generations of children and adults for his warm, comforting presence on Sesame Street, and for being an outstanding cultural ambassador. Rest in Peace, Emilio Delgado.