Produced from 1976 to 1980 and funded by Department of Education grants at Miami's WPBT-TV (Channel 2), Que Pasa found humor in the everyday lives of Cuban immigrants in America. The Peña home became a symbol for all the foibles of life in a new culture. Along the way the sitcom tackled pressing social issues such as homophobia, addiction, women's liberation, and sexual freedom.
Central to each episode were teenagers Joe and Carmen (Rocky Echevarria and Ana Margo). Speaking mangled Spanish, they aspired to the American way of life instead of the Old World customs their parents Juana and Pepe (Ana-Margarita Martinez Casado and Manolo Villaverde) tried to impose upon them. Juana and Pepe, meanwhile, struggled to adjust to their new lives while grandparents Antonio and Adela (Luis Oquendo and Velia Martinez -- the favorites of many Que Pasa fans) remained frozen in their Cuban ways, never learning the new language.
All the ingredients made for a hilarious comedy that many hyphenated Miamians could relate to. Making television history as the first bilingual sitcom, Que Pasa launched the careers of Rocky Echevarria (who later became Hollywood actor Steven Bauer) and Andy Garcia, who played Carmen's boyfriend in one episode and Joe's gay friend in another.
The show was the brainchild of Miami-Dade Community College economics professor Mendoza, who together with a crack team of actors, writers, directors, and producers, created a classic that won eight Emmy Awards and has yet to leave the airwaves. Today Que Pasa, USA? can be found on a host of cable stations around the nation and around the world. It airs in Ecuador, India, and Japan, as well as in every state in America. Its longevity, Mendoza asserts, is due to the show's universal themes about the tensions and discoveries encountered while adapting from one culture to another.
This Friday Mendoza will screen three Que Pasa, USA? episodes and recount the making of the show. Although not officially confirmed, some of the cast may appear. Most of them continue to work in television and live in South Florida. Sadly, because actors Luis Oquendo and Velia Martinez died in 1993, this will not be a Que Pasa reunion. But it will be a hilarious evening, Miami style.