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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(CNN)After 44 years arsenic the loveable Maria connected Sesame Street, Sonia Manzano thought she was yet acceptable to determination to a quieter, non-puppet inhabited vicinity wherever she could walk her days penning children's books.

"I didn't deliberation I was going to proceed successful television," said Manzano, 71, who was connected Sesame Street from 1971 until 2015. "I person already published 5 children's books with Scholastic, truthful I thought I was going to dedicate myself to penning more."

A telephone from PBS Kids, however, took her successful a antithetic direction.

    "They wanted maine to make a children's amusement based connected a Latino family," Manzano said. While astatine archetypal reluctant, she yet recognized it was an connection she couldn't refuse.

      "I had to prehend this accidental due to the fact that each accidental to person much authentic portrayals of Latinos connected television, you instrumentality it," she said.

      So, her adjacent stop: "Alma's Way."

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

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      "I'm Nuyorican and was raised successful the South Bronx, truthful I made it astir a Nuyorican household successful the South Bronx," Manzano said.

      The amusement is heavy influenced by the 15-time Emmy grant winning histrion and her ain beingness experiences increasing up successful a low-income household successful 1 of New York City's astir divers boroughs.

      "Growing up, sometimes my teachers would fto maine recognize that they thought I was stupid. I besides had batch of problems astatine home, truthful I would often fell and find refuge successful my ain mind," said Manzano, who has talked openly astir her humble beginnings and tumultuous narration with her abusive father.

      "Alma doesn't acquisition these antagonistic things similar I did, but successful that aforesaid mode she gets into her caput to lick her problems. In each episode, she gets herself into a messiness and has to find a mode to get retired of trouble, truthful a bubble volition look adjacent to her caput that lets america spot her thought process," Manzano said of the amusement aimed astatine kids 4 to 6 years old.

      By animating what goes connected successful the small girl's mind, Manzano hopes to animate tiny children to deliberation critically and worth their ain ideas.

      'Alma's Way' is influenced by Manzano's experiences increasing  up   successful  a low-income household   successful  1  of New York City's astir   divers  boroughs.

      "I noticed that a batch of mediocre children who possibly don't talk English are successful a people with a batch of different kids, oregon their parents are excessively engaged and struggling with work, did not similar schoolhouse due to the fact that they are expected to memorize and larn things astatine the aforesaid gait arsenic their friends alternatively of their own," Manzano said. "These children believed that they were not smart, and what I privation them to cognize erstwhile they spot 'Alma's Way' is that we each person a brain. We each person our ain mind, and we tin usage it."

      "Alma's Way" volition besides item antithetic aspects of Latino civilization and observe diversity. Alma, voiced by 8-year-old newcomer and chap Bronxite, Summer Rose Castillo, loves mofongo, a emblematic Puerto Rican dish, and dances to Puerto Rican euphony similar Bomba and Plena.

      "When I was increasing up, you ne'er saw idiosyncratic similar maine connected television, and I thought, 'What americium I going to lend to a nine that did not spot me?'" said Manzano who arsenic Maria connected Sesame Street became the archetypal Latina successful a starring relation connected American television. "When I got the relation of Maria, it was truthful fantastic due to the fact that different girls were going to spot maine and say, 'Wow, she looks similar me.'"

      Which is wherefore she wanted everything astir the amusement to look and consciousness authentic, from the streets of the South Bronx and its radical -- animators from Pipeline Studios spent clip successful the vicinity to get a amended consciousness for it -- to the music. The opening theme, a catchy premix of the rhythms often heard astir the borough, was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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      "The opus had to person afloat "lelolay," hip-hop, rap, bushed boxing due to the fact that this is what you perceive successful the Bronx, and arsenic we each know, Lin-Manuel is simply a genius and tin accidental successful 4 words what it takes the remainder of america 40," Manzano said.

      Many of the characters are besides based connected household members and folks from her aged neighborhood. Even the 6 train, the subway enactment that connects the Bronx to the remainder of the metropolis and was made celebrated by Jennifer Lopez's debut workplace album, "On the 6," makes an appearance.

      Manzano says she wants children to commencement embracing their taste individuality and realizing their ain self-worth astatine an aboriginal age, erstwhile they are actively gathering the instauration that volition find their aboriginal quality and personality. This becomes adjacent much important arsenic they turn and are exposed to things similar the web and societal media.

      "It is important for kids to spot themselves reflected successful nine truthful they tin go and consciousness a portion of it and aren't intimidated by the problems they look aboriginal on," she said.

        It is what Sesame Street and Maria did for her and what she hopes countless children volition find arsenic they caput connected implicit to "Alma's Way."

        "Alma's Way" airs connected PBS Kids successful English with Spanish dubbing.

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