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

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

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However, a call from PBS Kids took her in a different direction.

“They wanted me to make a children’s show based on a Latino family,” Manzano said. Reluctant at first, she eventually admitted that it was an offer she could not refuse.


“I had to take advantage of this opportunity because every opportunity to do more authentic portrayals of Latinos on television, you take it,” she said.

So, his next stop: “Almaz Way.”

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The animated series, written and produced by Manzano in conjunction with Fred Rogers Productions and Pipeline Studios, centers around Alma Rivera, an outgoing and mischievous 6-year-old girl living with her Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx.

“I’m a New Yorker and grew up in the South Bronx, so I told it about a Nuyorican family in the South Bronx,” Manzano said.

The show is heavily influenced by the 15-time Emmy Award-winning actress and her own life experiences growing up in a low-income household in one of New York City’s most diverse boroughs.

“Growing up, sometimes my teachers would let me think they thought I was a fool. I had too many problems at home, so I often took refuge in my own mind,” said Manzano, who told her openly talked about. Humble beginnings and a tumultuous relationship with her abusive father.

“Alma doesn’t experience these negative things like me, but in the same way she comes to her mind to solve her problems. In every episode, she messes herself up and finds her way out of trouble. search, a bubble will appear next to his head that lets us see his thought process,” Manzano said of the show aimed at 4 to 6-year-olds.

By animating what goes on in a little girl’s mind, Manzano hopes to inspire young children to think critically and value their ideas.

'Almaz Way' is inspired 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 kids who probably don’t speak English are in class with lots of other kids, or their parents are too busy and struggling with work, they didn’t like school because they are expected to remember and learn things at the same pace as their friends, rather than on their own,” Manzano said. “These kids believed they weren’t smart, and when they see ‘Almaz Way’ I want them to know that we all have a brain. We all have a brain of our own, and we want it can use.”

The “Almaz Way” will also highlight different aspects of Latino culture and celebrate diversity. 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 such as bomba and plena.

“When I was growing up, you never saw anyone like me on television, and I thought, ‘What am I going to contribute to a society that hasn’t seen me?'” said Manzano, who plays Maria on Sesame Street. As the first Latina in a leading role on American television. “When I got the role of Maria, it was awesome because other girls were going to look at me and say, ‘Wow, she looks like me.

That’s why she wanted everything about the show to look authentic, from the streets of the South Bronx and its people — Pipeline Studios’ animators spent time in the neighborhood to get a better feel for it — to the music. The opening theme, a fascinating mix of rhythms often heard around the city, was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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“full in song” should be lolole, hip-hop, rap, beat boxing because that’s 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 are 40,” Manzano said.

Many of the characters are also based on family members and people from its old neighborhood. Even the 6 train, the subway line that connects the Bronx to the rest of the city and was made famous by Jennifer Lopez’s debut studio album, “On the 6”, makes an appearance.

Manzano says she wants children to start embracing their own cultural identity and realize their own worth at an early age, when they are actively building the foundation that will shape their future character and personality. will determine. This becomes even more important as they grow and become more exposed to things like the web and social media.

“It is important for children to reflect themselves in society so that they can feel and be a part of it and not be intimidated by the problems that will come later,” she said.

This is exactly what Sesame Street and Maria did for her and she hopes to find countless children heading to the “Almaz Way”.

“Almaz Way” airs in English with Spanish dubbing on PBS Kids.


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