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

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

After 44 years as the loveable Maria on Sesame Street, Sonia Manzano thought she was finally ready to move to a quieter, non-puppet inhabited neighborhood where she could spend her days writing children’s books.

“I didn’t think I was going to continue in television,” said Manzano, 71, who was on Sesame Street from 1971 until 2015. “I have already published five children’s books with Scholastic, so I thought I was going to dedicate myself to writing more.”A call from PBS Kids, however, took her in a different direction.”They wanted me to create a children’s show based on a Latino family,” Manzano said. While at first reluctant, she ultimately recognized it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. “I had to seize this opportunity because every opportunity to have more authentic portrayals of Latinos on television, you take it,” she said.

So, her next stop: “Alma’s Way.”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 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 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 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, who has talked openly about her humble beginnings and tumultuous relationship 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 said of the show aimed at kids 4 to 6 years old.