Apr 28, 2013

Que Pasa, USA: Bilingual Beefcake

I took Spanish every year from fifth grade through high school, but it might as well have been Klingon.  We never met a native speaker except for a teacher, we never heard it spoken on the street, we never saw it written on signs or posters.

So when PBS began to air Que Pasa, U.S.A.? in 1977, we watched eagerly, and even wrote reports on it to present to the class.

It was a sitcom about a family of Cuban immigrants in Miami.  The grandparents, Abuela Adela and Abuelo Antonio, spoke only Spanish.  The parents, Pepe and Juana Pena, spoke some English.  And the teenagers, Joe and Carmen, were native English speakers.

To accommodate both English and Spanish-speaking viewers, characters translated for each other, repeated statements twice, or made their meaning clear through context.

The plots mostly involved culture clash between traditional Cuban and "modern" American mores.  The grandparents are aghast when Carmen dates a black man.

 Joe does a report on gay people for his school newspaper (including a night in a gay club for research), and everyone assumes that he is gay.

In addition to the gay plotline, Rocky Echevarria, who played Joe, provided ample beefcake.  He usually wore an open shirt and extremely tight jeans, and there were occasional bathrobe or swimsuit shots.

Renamed Stephen Bauer, he went on to a long career as action heroes, gangsters, and streetwise cops, including the homoerotic best buddy of Al Pacino's Scarface (1983).  His penchant for very tight pants continued.

He also originated the gay character of Martin in  Bent on Broadway (1980), and starred in the gay-themed Versace Murder (1998).

In the 1980s, we began to get Telemundo, which opened up a whole world of Spanish-language programs, including Papa soltero


  1. " Que Pasa USA" is a very funny show and perfectly captures the Cuban American experience. Rocky Echevarria- Steve Bauer should have become a bigger star

    1. It was the first time I heard Spanish spoken outside of a classroom. Rock Island wasn't very diverse back in the 1970s.


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