That little Sonia is voiced by another Bronx Latina: Summer Rose Castillo, a 9-year-old from Throgs Neck who said she identified with Alma. Castillo added, though, that the series is “not just about Puerto Ricans, it’s not just about Latinas; it’s about so many different types of families.”
For Manzano, that meant not only giving Alma playmates who are African American, South Asian and white but also creating friends and family members who are Hispanic in different ways. Alma’s papi, for instance, is Afro-Caribbean, while her Uncle Nestor is Cuban, and a neighbor, Beto, is Mexican American. These distinctions are reflected in the tastes, vocabulary and appearance of the characters, whom the animators at Pipeline Studios, a company near Toronto, portray with varying skin tones.
“Latinos aren’t a monolith,” said Jorge Aguirre, the series’s head writer. “That’s one of the things we get to explore, down to the language, food, music. It’s a great sandbox to be playing in.”
That sandbox is American, too. While Alma refers to her grandfather as Abuelo, she calls Manzano’s character Granny Isa. Manzano deliberately mixed 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 can’t visit the Riveras. Alma figures out that she can still dance with her ebullient granny through a video connection — a solution that should resonate with pandemic-weary children.
Manzano also invented a character with a disability: Alma’s musically gifted cousin, Eddie Mambo, who has cerebral palsy. The producers relied on medical experts to guide Pipeline in portraying how he moves and adapts. Manzano based him on both her real cousin Eddie, a musician without disabilities, and a boy she knew in her youth who had lost the full use of his legs to polio.