Meet ‘Mami’ From the Hit PBS Series Alma’s Way, Annie Henk!
Actress Annie Henk lends her voice talents to the animated hit, now in its second season.
I’m always on the hunt for shows that are not only educational for my kids–but different; with themes and characters we haven’t “seen” on screen before. One cartoon that caught my eye was PBS’s “Alma’s Way.” Produced by Fred Rogers Productions, and created by Sonia Manzano–best known for her epic role as “Maria” on Sesame Street–Alma’s Way is about a Puerto Rican girl from New York–specifically, the Bronx–and her adventures and daily life with her family and friends. Since my family is half Puerto Rican, and we’re from Nueva York, I knew I’d love the series as much as my daughters did. Recommended for children ages 4 to 6 (or, er… middle-aged parents like me), it’s a great series to watch at home, and for teachers to show in the classroom. Currently in its second season, Alma’s Way teaches kids the importance of being bilingual in today’s world; which is a major reason why I love that my daughters enjoy it so much. It reminds them, and teaches them, about their Caribbean roots.
Annie Henk voices “Mami” in Alma’s Way – Mami’s an amazing role model for young Alma, who is voiced by Summer Rose Castillo. Annie spoke with Latinista.com about her childhood, role models, and what it’s like to portray such a warm and loving parent on TV.
Tell us about your childhood.
“I was born in Chelsea, Manhattan, and raised in Elmhurst, Queens. My formative years were spent in Chelsea and boy, it was a magical time. A beautiful neighborhood filled with activists, artists, actors, musicians…always exciting. I remember seeing movie shoots on our block and living next door to a news anchor, actors, musicians, and a woman who read my little palm once. People were so open and kind. Then, we moved to Elmhurst. A new adventure, with new friends from all over the world. Elmhurst and Jackson Heights are known for their diversity. Over 267 languages are spoken there! More than anywhere else in the world. Imagine growing up thinking the rest of the world must be the same.”
What shows and movies greatly impacted you as a kid?
“Oh, where to start?! TV: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Wonder Woman, Bionic Woman, the Carol Burnett Show, and reruns of I Love Lucy. Oh, and Spanish language variety shows: Siempre en Domingo and Iris Chacon (that one was too saucy for a kid)! Movies that moved me and are seared into my brain: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, The Outsiders, and all of the John Hughes films!”
Did you always want to be an actor?
“Yes and no – sort of. I wanted to be a dancer first, I loved to dance. And sing. I actually thought I’d be a triple threat, like Rita Moreno. Only I couldn’t afford dance or music lessons, so I settled for the school chorus and started to focus on acting. These days I’m dancing salsa, every chance I get.”
How did you first hear about Alma’s Way–and why did you want to be involved?
“I auditioned for the pilot, and fell in love with Mami immediately! I knew I had to book it. I had to play her! I loved the culture, the relationships, the values – and come on, New York City! I wanted to represent all those things. It’s a big part of who I am. The other delicious draws were Sonia Manzano and getting to be a part of the PBS and Fred Rogers legacy! They were so formative in my life. I still pinch myself.”
Do you prefer screen, stage, or voiceover work–and why?
“Theater is my first love, but it’s so hard to choose one over the other. I love them all. They all offer something different – creatively, and monetarily. Each has a specific challenge that’s so thrilling to tackle. I’m grateful I’m able to navigate through all the mediums and don’t have to choose. There’s so much this business offers. You just gotta be flexible and willing to put in the work. It really is hard work and you gotta keep your craft sharp.”
What makes Alma’s Way so unique and special?
“It’s set in the Bronx, New York City, and shares the journey of a young girl navigating the world through her unique lens. She learns through her own critical thinking with the support of friends and family. As we follow Alma’s adventures, we also get to meet what makes up this rich, diverse neighborhood filled with music, many cultures, and community. I love that kids from all over are learning about the Puerto Rican culture and her community. The Riveras (Alma’s family’s last name) also speak in Spanish, sing, play music, and cook traditional Puerto Rican dishes. The Riveras are an active, close-knit family that loves to do things together. I think that’s refreshing to see these days – some technology-free fun – as a family.”
Tell us about Mami.
“Ahhh, Mami! She is a music teacher raised in the Bronx and balances work and family beautifully.”
How is she similar to you?
“I’m also a mom and understand the incredible joy and responsibilities of raising a child to grow up to be self-aware, confident, independent, and compassionate. Also, it was important to me to balance work and family. And like me, Lulu Rivera loves teaching, trying new recipes, laughing, singing, dancing, and animals. As for different…Sadly, I can’t play any instruments. Well, Maybe the clave and guiro – but very basic.”
Please share additional projects you’re working on
“I just wrapped on a poignant short film, called King of Games, about a pivotal day in a young boy’s life. I play a mom. There’s another wonderful short film called Heritage that screened in the New York Latino Film Festival (NYLFF)- I play a mom. And I’m eagerly anticipating a beautiful feature called Ponyboi starring River Gallo – and I play…yup, their mom! Sensing a theme? I love it.”
What are your fall and winter plans?
“Depends on what happens with the strike. I’ve been taking on camera audition classes and brushing up on my craft, squeezing in more salsa classes. I’ve also been splitting my time between NY and Texas, so I’m taking in and enjoying as much nature as I can. Spending more quality time with my foster-fail fur babies. Maybe I’ll switch it up and learn some line dancing!
Alma’s Way airs on PBS Kids and is currently in its second season. Learn more at: https://pbskids.org/almasway
Images: courtesy of Fred Rogers