September 27, 2022

How ‘Sesame Street’ star Sonia Manzano elevates Latino stories on U.S. TV

National news graphic

National news graphic

Sonia Manzano is well-known for playing the adorable Maria on “Sesame Street” for 44 years. Now, she spends her time writing children’s books. It’s a way she can still entertain and highlight Latino stories that need to be heard. She’s still involved with TV, though.

“I didn’t think I was going to continue in television,” Manzano, 71, told CNN. “I have already published five children’s books with Scholastic, so I thought I was going to dedicate myself to writing more.”

Manzano says she got sidetracked from writing when PBS Kids asked her to create a children’s show based on a Latino family. At first, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to do it, but then, she realized it was the perfect offer. “I had to seize this opportunity because every opportunity to have more authentic portrayals of Latinos on television, you take it,” she said.

In turn, she created “Alma’s Way,” an animated series, written and produced by Manzano in conjunction with Fred Rogers Productions and Pipeline Studios. The story revolves around Alma Rivera, an outgoing 6-year-old girl living in the South Bronx with her Puerto Rican family. “I’m Nuyorican and was raised in the South Bronx, so I made it about a Nuyorican family in the South Bronx,” Manzano told CNN.

The program takes from Manzano’s personal life experiences growing up in a low-income household in New York City.

“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,” said Manzano. “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.”