Mayte Prida-Gregory got the idea for her bilingual children’s television show from her own family. After the 35-year-old former newswoman and her Anglo husband, Tom, had two children—Tommy, who is now five, and Isabella, who’s three—she decided to go back to work. “But I knew I didn’t want to do the news again,” she says. “I thought about a children’s show, and I said ‘Hey, there are a lot of families out there just like ours.’”
The World of Mayte/El Mundo de Mayte, the only bilingual children’s show in the nation, began airing in August 1996. Produced in San Antonio on a shoestring budget, the half hour of music, skits, and animation was first syndicated to 87 small markets around the country and then to 12 of the 16 largest markets (including Dallas— Fort Worth and Houston). Today Prida-Gregory awaits word about a regular slot on Univision, the Spanish-language network headed by former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, whom she once covered as a reporter for that city’s Univision affiliate. But she has more than the show on her plate: She has hosted one bilingual Christmas special for kids on PBS and has another coming up, and Singing Bilingual—Volume 1, a videocassette of theme songs from nine of her shows, was rated one of the top ten audiotapes or videotapes of 1996 for kids by the Institute for Childhood Resources.
Prida-Gregory was born and raised in Mexico City. Though her family had a summer home in San Antonio when she was growing up, she first went there on her own in 1982, to finish work on a bachelor’s degree in communications at Our Lady of the Lake University. That led to a job with Univision—first in San Antonio and then in Los Angeles, where for seven years she anchored the nightly news and a newsmagazine show. In 1991 she left TV to become a Spanish-language rapper; her Déjate Atrapar (“Let Me Entrap You”) CD yielded two hits on the Latin charts. Along the way she married Tom, a North Carolina native whose company manufactured fax paper, and got pregnant. In 1993 the family moved to San Antonio, where Tom opened a branch office of his company. He later sold the business and now runs Mayte Mouse Productions, which produces children’s TV shows.
Each World/Mundo show, which is taped live before an audience of parents and kids, is built around a theme—say, the ABCs, or the environment—and has its own bilingual theme song. The irrepressible Prida-Gregory is typically joined by Tommy and Izzy, two characters dressed as big globes, and by the frenetic Mayte Dancers. Since the show currently goes out to English-language stations, Prida-Gregory hosts in English but does the lessons (such as singing the ABCs) in Spanish. If the Univision deal comes through, she’ll do the reverse.
Clearly the show is more than mere child’s play. “I’m not gonna tell you it makes them one hundred percent bilingual,” she says, “because I can’t teach them grammar or phrases or anything like that. But my mission is to motivate them to learn a foreign language.”