One fateful day in 2010, young brothers Jordan ’19, Jonathan ’21, and Michael Salama ’23 sang an adorable round of “Wheels on the Bus,” and uploaded a video of it to YouTube. The clip went viral, and has been viewed more than 51 million times.
That was the spark for “The Lulus,” a children’s series on YouTube that the brothers, who were raised by their Argentinian father and Iraqi mother in Pelham, N.Y., created in 2016. The show features short videos of them singing children’s songs in English and Spanish, often tweaking the lyrics or acting out a scene to convey an educational message. Combined, they have attracted more than 980,000 subscribers and 416 million views from around the world.
Now, with funding from a Project ReachOut 56-81-06 fellowship, Jordan is using that platform to promote cross-cultural understanding, with a bilingual spinoff series called “Lulus America.” Each episode features children from a different country in South, Central, or North America. One spotlights a mobile library, conveyed via donkey, that brings books to children in rural Colombia. Another visits a community sea-turtle conservation project on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Yet another is about a new generation of bluegrass and old-time musicians in the Appalachian mountains.
This is not the first time Jordan, a Spanish and Portuguese major, has sought to bridge language and cultural gaps. He traveled through Colombia for an internship the summer after freshman year and again for his senior thesis, a travelogue about people living along the Magdalena, Colombia’s main river. For his junior paper, he retraced the trade route of his Syrian-Jewish great-grandfather, who was a traveling salesman in the Andes, from Argentina to Bolivia.
During an internship at Sesame Workshop in the international social-impact department, he saw scripts for shows set in other countries. “The scripts for Afghanistan focused on water cleanliness and girls’ education, while the China ones were about financial empowerment. I realized that there were all these areas of education that were important in different areas of the world,” recalls Jordan.
The new project likely never would have happened without the skills and insights Jordan and his brothers gained running their two YouTube channels, “The Lulus TV” and “Los Lulus en Español.” Many English-speaking families watch the Spanish videos to help their kids learn the language, and vice versa, says freshman Michael, who first came up with the idea for the Spanish-language channel in 2016.
The Salama brothers also strongly believed there was a need for wholesome, educational content about and for children, tailored to the digital age. “Kids used to watch TV and get educational entertainment through PBS,” notes Jonathan. “A lot of kids are moving to smartphones and tablets ... , using them as entertainment.”
Paradoxically, the original YouTube series that made all this possible was once a source of embarrassment for the brothers. When Jonathan first floated the idea of a regular series to his brothers, they hesitated. “We were in high school by then, and it wasn’t the coolest thing in the world to sing kids’ songs,” recalls Jordan. But now, he’s eager to use what they’ve built and “use that to communicate something larger. We want to take it back to kids telling their own stories.”