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Diversity in children's programming lets kids and families see themselves

Jelly and Ben and Filipino cartoon characters on a new PBS Kids show. [PBS Kids]
Jelly and Ben and Filipino cartoon characters on a new PBS Kids show. [PBS Kids]

After eating adobo, a traditional Filipino dish for dinner, Diane Thompson of Broadview Heights watches TV with her two young kids, Ella Rose and Sebastian.

Today’s choice: "Jelly, Ben & Pogo."

The Thompson family. [Natalia Garcia / Ideastream Public Media]

"Jelly, Ben & Pogo" is a PBS Kids short series starring a sea monster named Pogo who befriends a sister and a brother named Jelly and Ben, similar to Ella Rose and Sebastian. Thompson found the show just by browsing through streaming apps on her TV. 

“I noticed it was a Filipino family and I was like, ‘Ok, we’re watching all of these,'" Thompson said.

Jelly, Ben and Pogo eat a traditional Filipino meal. [PBS Kids]

"Jelly, Ben & Pogo" is about a Filipino family – like the Thompsons.

The show has flashes of Filipino culture – food, Tagalog, one of the Filipino languages, and guest appearances from Jelly and Ben’s Lola, the Tagalog word from grandma.

Thompson felt particularly attached to an episode where Jelly and Ben visited their Lolo – or grandfather – on All Souls Day, a holiday when many Filipinos celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died.

Jelly and Ben's family visiting Lolo on All Souls Day. [PBS Kids]

“This All Souls Day is when I visited my mom in the cemetery as well,” Thompson said.  “It’s literally at the perfect time for them growing up right now.”

In Lakewood, Tina Enriquez watches "Jelly, Ben & Pogo" with her Filipino family, which includes Emery and Letty – another young brother and sister combo. 

“That’s why I like it, because it shows them that they’re not different,” Enriquez said.

The Enriquez Family. [Natalia Garcia / Ideastream Public Media]

Tina was born and raised in Ohio. And now she’s raising her own family in Ohio, where Filipino Americans make up a very small piece of the population – fewer than twenty thousand people.

“That’s the greatest thing about this is that it makes them feel more normal because let’s be honest, we live in Ohio. My kids are minorities here, but if they can have a chance to look like, ‘Hey, I’m just like any other kid,’ then it’s completely normal,” Enriquez said. “When they see a Lola mumbling in Tagalog, my kids actually pick up on that.”

Naomi Sigg, Senior Associate Dean at Case Western Reserve University, certified educator and facilitator in diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and a Filipino mother, said shows like "Jelly, Ben & Pogo" provide visibility to children who might often feel invisible in the entertainment landscape. 

The Sigg Family. [Naomi Sigg]

“It makes you feel as though you matter. There’s this sense of when you’re invisible you have no power. Having shows like this will teach not just my kids, but other Filipino kids that every story matters,” she said. “You have the ability to have power and influence and be seen and heard and valued in the greater U.S. society.”

Jelly, Ben and Pogo eat Halo-Halo with Lola. [PBS Kids]

The show’s creator, Jalysa Leva, said she is proud to be able to share Filipino stories in this way, but she’s knows that that isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do.

“I was so relieved when the feedback came in and people were so positive because I was really afraid and worried about how everyone would take it because I was essentially trying to be a voice for an entire community, which is never a monolith, so I wanted to make sure we were being authentic and genuine and people were really feeling seen," Leva said. "The way people reacted, it felt like we were able to do that.”

In addition to director, animator and creator of "Jelly, Ben & Pogo," Jalysa Leva is the voice of Ben. [Jalysa Leva]

Surveys show, and the success of "Jelly, Ben & Pogo" suggests, that demand for diverse casting in television and movies, and kid's shows, is growing. 

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.