From ‘Sesame Street’ to ‘Alma’s Way’: How Sonia Manzano continues to break ground and elevate Latino stories on US television


“I didn’t think I was going to continue in television,” stated Manzano, 71, who was on Sesame Street from 1971 till 2015. “I have already published five children’s books with Scholastic, so I thought I was going to dedicate myself to writing more.”

A name from PBS Kids, nonetheless, took her in a distinct route.

“They wanted me to create a children’s show based on a Latino family,” Manzano stated. While at first reluctant, she in the end acknowledged it was a proposal she could not refuse.

“I had to seize this opportunity because every opportunity to have more authentic portrayals of Latinos on television, you take it,” she stated.

So, her subsequent cease: “Alma’s Way.”

The animated collection, written and produced by Manzano at the side of Fred Rogers Productions and Pipeline Studios, facilities round Alma Rivera, an outgoing and mischievous 6-year-old woman residing within the South Bronx together with her Puerto Rican household.

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“I’m Nuyorican and was raised in the South Bronx, so I made it about a Nuyorican family in the South Bronx,” Manzano stated.

The present is closely influenced by the 15-time Emmy award profitable actress and her personal life experiences rising up in a low-income family in certainly one of New York City’s most numerous boroughs.

“Growing up, sometimes my teachers would let me understand that they thought I was stupid. I also had lot of problems at home, so I would often hide and find refuge in my own mind,” stated Manzano, who has talked overtly about her humble beginnings and tumultuous relationship together with her abusive father.

“Alma doesn’t experience these negative things like I did, but in that same way she gets into her mind to solve her problems. In every episode, she gets herself into a mess and has to find a way to get out of trouble, so a bubble will appear next to her head that lets us see her thought process,” Manzano stated of the present geared toward children 4 to six years previous.

By animating what goes on within the little woman’s thoughts, Manzano hopes to encourage young children to suppose critically and worth their very own concepts.

'Alma's Way' is influenced by Manzano's experiences growing up in a low-income household in one of New York City's most diverse boroughs.

“I noticed that a lot of poor children who perhaps don’t speak English are in a class with a lot of other kids, or their parents are too busy and struggling with work, did not like school because they are expected to memorize and learn things at the same pace as their friends instead of their own,” Manzano stated. “These children believed that they were not smart, and what I want them to know when they see ‘Alma’s Way’ is that we all have a brain. We all have our own mind, and we can use it.”

“Alma’s Way” will even spotlight totally different points of Latino tradition and have fun range. Alma, voiced by 8-year-old newcomer and fellow Bronxite, Summer Rose Castillo, loves mofongo, a typical Puerto Rican dish, and dances to Puerto Rican music like Bomba and Plena.

“When I was growing up, you never saw someone like me on television, and I thought, ‘What am I going to contribute to a society that did not see me?'” stated Manzano who as Maria on Sesame Street turned the primary Latina in a number one function on American tv. “When I got the role of Maria, it was so wonderful because other girls were going to see me and say, ‘Wow, she looks like me.'”

Which is why she needed all the things in regards to the present to feel and appear genuine, from the streets of the South Bronx and its individuals — animators from Pipeline Studios hung out within the neighborhood to get a greater really feel for it — to the music. The opening theme, a catchy mixture of the rhythms steadily heard across the borough, was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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“The song had to have full “lelolay,” hip-hop, rap, beat boxing because this is what you hear in the Bronx, and as we all know, Lin-Manuel is a genius and can say in four words what it takes the rest of us 40,” Manzano stated.

Many of the characters are additionally primarily based on relations and folk from her previous neighborhood. Even the 6 practice, the subway line that connects the Bronx to the remainder of town and was made well-known by Jennifer Lopez’s debut studio album, “On the 6,” makes an look.

Manzano says she needs kids to start out embracing their cultural identification and realizing their very own self-worth at an early age, when they’re actively constructing the inspiration that can decide their future character and character. This turns into much more essential as they develop and are uncovered to issues like the online and social media.

“It is important for kids to see themselves reflected in society so they can become and feel a part of it and aren’t intimidated by the problems they face later on,” she stated.

It is what Sesame Street and Maria did for her and what she hopes numerous kids will discover as they head on over to “Alma’s Way.”

“Alma’s Way” airs on PBS Kids in English with Spanish dubbing.



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