Sesame Street icon Sonia Manzano doesn’t do another show that homogenizes Latinos, here’s what she does instead


Two girls are sitting on a porch in the Bronx. We are in the late 1950s and they are about seven years old. The Dominican girl asks her friend what she wants to be when she grows up. The Nuyorican next to her said, a ballerina. Then she whispers, “But I’ve never seen a black ballerina.” And her friend whispers to her, “Well, you could be the first.”

Sonia Manzano tells mitú this story on Zoom as we discuss his new PBS Kids show with Fred Rogers Productions, Alma Road. Manzano has come a long way from a girl who couldn’t imagine her dancing career to winning 15 Emmy Awards for her work on Sesame Street and a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement statuette for her work as the Barrier-Breaking Maria.

Sonia Manzano in the Bronx.

When Linda simenski, who is the content manager for PBS Kids, asked Manzano to create an “animated Latin[x] show ”, Manzano could not resist. This is the 71-year-old’s first time creating her own show, and her mission is to help children learn as Manzano doesn’t want children to feel unable to achieve their dreams for lack of representation. “As a Puerto Rican who grew up in New York, I never saw anyone representing me on television in the 1950s. And so I was happy to continue. Sesame Street and become what I needed to see myself, ”she said mitú. Manzano takes everything she’s learned from 44 years of working on Sesame Street and pour it into Alma Road, which premiered earlier this month. She modeled the show after her own life, making the protagonist Alma and her family Nuyorican and putting the story in her hometown of the Bronx (with many thanks to the famous 6 Train).

Alma Road does not teach children difficult academic skills, but rather the process of thinking, evaluating options and making decisions.

Watching it, you’ll follow six-year-old Alma as she tries to find compromises with her friends, choose between competing priorities, and learn new things. To encourage the children to be creative and to think critically, Manzano made sure there was a lot of humor and music in the show. By incorporating these elements, Manzano hopes to inspire children to new ways of thinking.

With less than a month on the air, Alma Road has already been well received. A fan recently approached Manzano to sing the show’s praises, mentioning that his daughter felt like Alma.

Yes, Alma Road is a children’s show, but parents also play a key role. Manzano said there was “no reason” for a children’s show to be off-putting to adults, a philosophy she attributes to her partners at Fred Rogers Productions. The concept was to create a show that lends itself to dialogue between parents and children. She wants families to be able to discuss Alma’s choices, wondering if she’s done the right thing or not. Her hope is that children “understand that there is often no right answer. We have to weigh things. And that [ability] that’s what intelligence is.

Since its inception, Manzano has moved away from creating a series that makes Latino tourists in our own experiences trying to define culture. “Who are you benefiting from this?” Not latin[x] audience because they already know who they are, ”she said. “It’s like stepping into a circular saw because of the diversity of our culture. Either you end up leaving people out, or you create something so seamless that everyone would take a nap at the start of the series. “

Alma Road aired on PBS stations in English and Spanish and is available to stream for free online.

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