Bilingual is Better

Recently, we got a chance to speak to Maria Canals-Barrera, known for playing mother to teenage wizards on Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place.” This year, Canals-Barrera will reprise her role as Theresa Russo for an upcoming special, “The Wizards Return: Alex vs. Alex” that will air March 15. Canals expressed love for her role, the cast and the show saying that going back was fun and easy. “The affection that we have for each other and the gratitude that we have for our show is very much there,” Canals-Barrera said.

In real life, Canals-Barrera is raising two young girls. She sees the experience of working on Wizards as a class in “teenagery” that is preparing her for the teenage years ahead. “The writers draw upon real issues,” she said, “like sibling rivalry, falling in love, peer pressure, and teenage insecurity. So it was like practice for me.”

More than the insight to raising teenagers, Canals-Barrera has appreciated the way Wizards celebrates the characters’ heritages without stereotyping them—a quality she emulates in her personal life. “[Wizards] was about this family that were American, and the mother happened to be of Mexican heritage and it was part of who they were and it was an embraced part,” she said. “There are a lot of shows that don’t even cast people that are of Latin heritage. But our show had leads that were part Latino and also embraced it. We were part of the American family, it wasn’t something that marginalized us, it was something that was another layer to us, which is important.”

Like many Latina moms, Canals-Barrera finds language to be a powerful component of her daughters’ identities. “As Americans, speaking English is what unifies us and then on top of that when we can still speak the language that our parents spoke; it’s another incredibly beautiful layer to who we are.”

“I thought it would be easier,” she said of raising bilingual children. “Then I realized that it’s not so easy when you are an American of Latin heritage as opposed to being from another country.” Canals-Barrera is a first generation Cuban-American while her husband is a third generation Mexican-American. “Our instinct is to speak in English,” she said. “We made a deliberate effort to do more; to speak Spanish more so that they can hear it more and learn it more.”

On her experience working with Chef Helen Cavallo on Disney Junior’s “That’s Fresh,” – a fun and energetic short-form cooking show that offers busy parents quick and simple recipe ideas centered on fresh, seasonal ingredients – Canals-Barrera said that it was fun and she enjoyed it very much. She is no stranger to cooking Latin American dishes in a hectic environment. Canals-Barrera has a strong culinary background; both of her parents were great cooks that loved to cook everything from traditional Cuban dishes to Chinese and gourmet. “It was a really wonderful celebration of food in my house,” Canals-Barrera said. In her own cooking, she likes to incorporate traditional dishes in a healthy style. Letting her daughters participate in the inventing part of cooking is equally as important. “It’s a lot of fun for them, and they get to see what they are eating and they enjoy it.”

“The Wizards Return: Alex vs Alex” premiering Friday, March 15 (8:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel.
Disney Junior’s popular short-form series “That’s Fresh,” a cooking show hosted by chef Helen Cavallo that presents simple, healthy recipe ideas for kids and families. In the episodes premiering Wednesday, March 13 and Thursday, March 14 (both at 9:25 p.m., ET/PT on the 24-hour Disney Junior channel), Maria will be helping Chef Cavallo prepare a delicious roasted chicken and banana tostones, a traditional Latin American dish.

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