Aida Barrera Taught All Kids Spanish, And Showed Latino Kids They Could Do Anything

The South Texas native created “Carrascolendas” – which aired on PBS stations across the country in the mid- to late 1970s.

By Marian NavarroSeptember 23, 2021 12:52 pm,

Aida Barrera was never trained as a teacher and didn’t know anything about television. But in 1962, she got a job in TV that started her on a path that would lead her to becoming a pioneer in the field.

“I think I must have giggled the most in my audition,” Barerra said.

Barerra created “Carrascolendas,” the first bilingual children’s television program in the United States.

Aida Barerra was born in 1938 in Rio Grande City, Texas, about 10 miles from the border with Mexico. As a child, she spoke only Spanish.

“We weren’t educated in Spanish, so we made mistakes and we didn’t want to say anything because we were embarrassed,” Barerra said.

Barrera went on to earn a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1957 and got a job at a small production company in Austin. She produced and narrated educational Spanish-language filmstrips – eventually known as the Gloria and David series. The series was delivered to schools and later distributed by Encyclopedia Britannica Films.

“Then we converted that to teaching English-speaking kids Spanish,” Barerra said.

That’s when she got her television job. She was chosen to be the on-air Spanish-language teacher for the local Austin-San Antonio PBS station, KLRN. Part of her job was to go around to schools in Central Texas to train teachers to utilize television for teaching.

“There were no Spanish teachers in the schools at the time … and there was nothing that went in to try to do anything for that Mexican-American child,” Barrera said.

Her work was happening at a time when Mexican-American civil rights activists were demanding that the Spanish language be respected and that Spanish-speaking children get better educational opportunities.

Then, came the 1968 Bilingual Education Act. Now, there were federal funds for bilingual instruction programs in schools – and for television programs.

“I was reading all about bilingual education … and I thought ‘well why can’t we do something like this?’ And so that’s when I approached the station and I said, ‘You know, I have an idea,’” Barrera said.

Aida Barrera, second from right, with characters from 'Carrascolendas.'

Barrera built on the “Señorita Barrera” persona she had created during her time working with children at KLRN and developed “Carrascolendas.” The name of the program was a play on the historical name of her hometown. Rio Grande City was originally Carnescolendas.

The show was intended for all children, regardless of their race.

“I was very conscious of the images that should go out and be portrayed and the fact that if I was going to be part of anything, that I wanted to create something that would reflect this diversity,” Barrera said.

For many Latino children, “Carrascolendas” was their first chance to see kids who looked and spoke like them on screen.

Child actors and adults dressed as animals and other characters performed bilingual skits that were both educational and entertaining. There was the mischievous Agapito, the Spanish-speaking lion, and there was the trickster Campomocha, the village handyman.

The first season of “Carrascolendas” first season ran regionally only – and was a hit. Barrera started thinking of a national audience.

“If Mr. Rogers could be on the network, well why couldn’t “Carrascolendas” be on the network?” Barrera said.

Aida Barrera

Barrera’s ambition paid off — the show began airing nationally in 1974. “Carrascolendas” and Barrera became nationally recognized. The show lasted for six years and left a lasting impact on Latino and non-Latino audiences alike. Barrera created a special space for all children.

“We could appeal to that imagination, and we could say to that child ‘your world is limitless, you can aspire to other things and that is, that was, at the heart of what we wanted to do in ‘Carrascolendas,’” Barrera said.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Voces Oral History Center at UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication as part of Texas Standard’s recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.

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