As children and nostalgic adults alike gear up for the reboot of iconic Nickelodeon kids’ show “Blue’s Clues,” young Asian-Americans looking for a relatable role model on the small screen have yet another reason to be excited.
The network recently revealed that Joshua Dela Cruz, a Filipino-American actor, will be the host of the new series, “Blue’s Clues & You.” And while much of the hype has focused on the reboot itself, Dela Cruz’s Asian-American identity isn’t something to gloss over.
I had always felt that if you wanted to be on television, you had to know how to fight or have an accent. It was incredibly alienating. Joshua Dela Cruz
Dela Cruz himself knows firsthand how important his role could be. He told HuffPost that he grew up believing that Asians in entertainment could exist only in a very narrow space.
“I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on American film and television. More specifically, there weren’t any Asian actors that played Americans,” he said. “I had always felt that if you wanted to be on television, you had to know how to fight or have an accent. It was incredibly alienating.”
Research has long shown that television has a significant influence on how kids perceive themselves and others, sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen told HuffPost. A 2011 study of white and black children revealed that while TV exposure led to an increase in self-esteem for white boys, the opposite was found for white and black girls as well as for black boys. Moreover, a 2013 study showed that even nonverbal behavior like facial expressions and body language can have an impact on viewers’ race biases.
For Dela Cruz, the effect of a lack of Asian-American representation hit him particularly hard during his senior year of high school, while he was working on an independent study project. For the assignment, he wrote an illustrated superhero comic ― a genre he’d always been passionate about. He still recalls the pride he felt as he formulated an origin story and created his character’s costume and powers.
He expected great praise from his art teacher after submitting the project, but he was instead met with a remark that forced him to confront his own identity struggles.
“[The teacher] tilted her head and looked at me again, saying, ‘Oh, usually people like to draw their heroes in their image,’” he remembered. “I had the opportunity to create an entire world and make my hero anything I wanted. What I had created that year was a superhero with blond hair and blue eyes, someone that looked nothing like me.”
“Finding my place in this world has always been something I’ve struggled with,” he added.
But Dela Cruz said he sought inspiration from fellow Filipino-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who the host feels “could play anyone, and do it better than anyone.” Dela Cruz, who acted alongside Phillips while working on Broadway’s “The King and I,” said the actor wasn’t just his childhood hero but also his cheerleader.
“He has a way of bringing complete strangers together and empowering them,” he said. “I remember being at a rehearsal and I was completely overwhelmed ― it was the biggest show I had ever done ― and during a break, he pulled me aside and said, ‘You belong here. They cast you because you belong here.’ I’ll never forget that. I’m forever grateful to him for it.”
'Blue's Clues' can have tremendous cultural and educational influence on young children and their families while allowing Asian-American children to feel 'seen' on TV. sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen
Yuen said that in his conspicuous role, Dela Cruz could positively influence how the younger generation views people of color if the show can responsibly delve into his Asian-American identity ― not just treat it as an aside.
“It is imperative that the show creates storylines and dialogue that highlights Dela Cruz’s heritage as an Asian-American, specifically Filipino-American,” the sociologist said. “‘Blue’s Clues’ can have tremendous cultural and educational influence on young children and their families while allowing Asian-American children to feel ‘seen’ on TV.”
As for Dela Cruz, he’s excited for the journey ahead.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to empower a new generation of ‘Blue’s Clues’ hunters,” he said. “To help them learn to be kind, explore their curiosity and that anything is possible if you take things one step at a time.”