In ‘Alma’s Way’, a young Latina thinks for herself, like her creator
This little Sonia is voiced by another Latina from the Bronx: Summer Rose Castillo, a 9-year-old girl from Throgs Neck who said she identified with Alma. Castillo added, however, that the series “isn’t just about Puerto Ricans, it’s not just Latinas; there are so many different types of families.
For Manzano, this meant not only giving Alma African American, South Asian, and white playmates, but also making Hispanic friends and family in different ways. Alma’s grandpa, for example, is African-Caribbean, while his uncle Nestor is Cuban and a neighbor, Beto, is Mexican-American. These distinctions are reflected in the tastes, vocabulary and appearance of the characters, which the animators at Pipeline Studios, a company located near Toronto, represent with varying skin tones.
“Latinos are not a monolith,” said Jorge Aguirre, chief writer of the series. “It’s one of the things we explore, right down to the language, the food, the music. It’s a great sandbox to play.
This sandbox is also American. While Alma calls her grandfather Abuelo, she calls Manzano’s character Granny Isa. Manzano deliberately mixed up the terminology because, she said, “the culture of this family is both Spanish and English.” In one episode, Isa’s flight from Europe is canceled and she cannot visit the Riveras. Alma discovers that she can still dance with her exuberant grandmother through a video connection – a solution that should resonate with children tired by the pandemic.
Manzano also invented a disabled character: Alma’s musical cousin Eddie Mambo, who has cerebral palsy. The producers relied on medical experts to guide Pipeline in describing its movements and adaptation. Manzano based it both on her real cousin Eddie, a musician without a disability, and on a boy she knew in her youth who had lost full use of his legs to polio.