How a Canadian actress is helping kids connect with Filipino culture on U.S. TV


Carolyn Fe had no clue her heritage would be under the spotlight after stepping out of her audition for Blue’s Clues & You!

The Nickelodeon remake of the popular 1996 educational series Blue’s Clues is part of the growing trend of inclusive kids programming that is more reflective of its diverse audience.

The reboot premiered last year with new host Joshua “Josh” Dela Cruz, a Filipino-American. His nationality was a mystery on the show until the preview of an upcoming episode that introduced a new character named Lola, Josh’s grandmother, played by Fe.

“I don’t know when the idea to bring Lola came, when it came and who decided,” says Fe. 

“But I am very grateful because this representation really takes us away from the stereotype that everybody else has given us as Filipinos.”

The Canadian actress, who calls Toronto home but is now in Montreal staying with her parents during the pandemic, says the show will be an upfront “grounded representation” featuring Tagalog language, food, how the young respect their elders, and other aspects of the Filipino culture at home. She says Lola will be a recurring character.

‘We’ve been silent for so long’

Many Filipinos are immigrants to faraway lands who pride themselves on integrating into new societies and see that as part of who they are. But according to Fe, Blue’s Clues & You! pulls back the curtain on the subtleties of what it means to be Filipino and showcases a culture that is rarely noticed.

Fe can relate. She was born in the Philippines but her family then moved to the U.S looking for a better life. They immigrated to Canada when she was eight and settled in Montreal. She moved to Toronto to further her acting career. 

The promo for the first episode featuring Fe showcases Dela Cruz greeting Lola with a “mano,” a Filipino gesture signifying respect for elders, before sitting down to eat bibingka, a traditional rice cake from the Philippines.

Carlos Bustamante, who spent years hosting YTV’s The Zone in the early 2000s, knows full well what the introduction of Fe’s character means to Blue’s Clues & You. He remembers when he was the Filipino-Canadian face for a generation of kids.  

Depicting Filipino tradition and language as a normal, everyday way of life is what Bustamante calls “the most important thing” on the show, and he says something he heard Fe say in an interview resonates with him. 

“We’ve been silent for so long,” he quotes her as saying.

Carolyn Fe, centre, with Josh Dela Cruz and Blue on the set of Blue’s Clues & You! (Submitted by Carolyn Fe)

Bustamante recalls a time when kids programming introduced different cultures by explaining them to their young viewers.

“The centre is still, for lack of a better term, North American Caucasian kids … which is why the opposite thing is explained,” he told CBC News. But Blues Clues & You! is different, he says.

The “matter of fact” way of depicting culture on the show is what makes differences seem normal rather than emphasizing “otherness,” and he says these small acknowledgements mean everything to Filipinos.

‘A beloved figure’

“Lola [is] coming in as a beloved figure. Everybody loves their grandmother. That’s who she is,” Bustamante says.

“To the kids watching, [they say] ‘Oh that’s Josh’s grandma. He loves her like how I love my grandma.’ That’s a doorway to understanding culture.”

The moment Fe clued in to the significance of the show for Filipinos was when she received widespread applause from Filipinos across North America and worldwide, including in the Philippines.

Yet, she says, the work is never done. 

She says, while movements like Black Lives Matter still have their own fight, “[Filipinos] now have a platform to work with.”

Read more at CBC.ca