A PBS program for children, Alma’s Way, represents the Puerto Rican community of the Bronx. Natalia Quintana-Feliciano of PBS says, “There’s so much power in children seeing themselves on-screen. In celebrating what makes them unique, they have the opportunity to think of themselves as the main character of their own story. Not as a background extra, comedic-relief sidekick, accessory to the hero, nor a box to be checked off — but as a dynamic protagonist that people can root for.”
A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the end of the 20th century reported that Hispanic people were severely underrepresented in TV programs for children, and recommended an increase in Latinx characters in programs intended for preschoolers. The University of California, Los Angeles, reported in its annual Hollywood Diversity Report that Latino actors had just 5.8 percent of major roles in TV shows in 2018-19.
Puerto Rican people are still underrepresented; a Puerto Rican family lives on Sesame Street, and “Dragon Tales” includes a character of mixed Puerto Rican heritage, but Spanish-speaking characters are more likely to be of Mexican heritage — or simply Spanish speaking with no specific background in the story.
“No child from any background should feel as excluded as I did watching shows that only featured conventional heroes and their BIPOC sidekicks,” says Quintana-Feliciano.
Puerto Rican culture
The theme song was written and produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bill Sherman. It includes features of traditional Puerto Rican music.
Characters speak Spanish and English, both with a Puerto Rican sound. Puerto Rican food is featured and traditions like bomba dance are central to the stories.
Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on Sesame Street, is the creator of the program. She made sure that the setting is authentic, working with the transit authority to portray the local subway line correctly and including a high level of detail. Manzano received an Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, and sees Alma’s Way as a complement to Sesame Street, which was groundbreaking in its day for presenting urban families in a diverse community.
In addition to showcasing the Puerto Rican experience, Alma’s Way focuses on critical thinking and problem solving. The show includes people with different ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, and careers. Alma stops and thinks aloud, addressing viewers directly and modeling responsibility and empathy as well as awareness of social concerns.
Digital content including games, music clips, and full episodes, is available on the PBS website.