Puppeteer Michelle Zamora has been doing the “puppet hustle” in Los Angeles for about 20 years. During that time, she has worked on creative projects with everyone from Katy Perry to Snoop Dogg to Pee-wee Herman.
In her latest venture, Zamora, who is originally from Brownsville, Texas, lends her voice and talent as a puppeteer to Waffles, one of the title characters of the new Netflix original children’s series Waffles + Mochi. The show, which stars former First Lady Michelle Obama, is designed to encourage kids to eat healthy by introducing them to different foods, culture and culinary facts.
For Zamora’s part, she voices Waffles, who is part Yeti and part waffle, and performs her movements. In one episode of the debut series, Waffles and his sidekick Mochi eat gazpacho with renowned Spanish chef José Andrés. In another, they enter a cornbread cooking contest with a clumsy character played by actress Rashida Jones (On the Rocks).
“I think growing up, we all started off as puppeteers when we would play with our toys,” Zamora told Remezcla during a recent interview. “There’s something magical about bringing inanimate objects to life and into our world. Puppets have the potential to do anything.”
Zamora has been inspired by all the puppet content she saw on TV growing up like The Muppet Show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It wasn’t until later that she realized how Latinx representation in the field was lacking.
“There weren’t that many brown puppets or brown puppeteers or women puppeteers,” she said. “There weren’t that many people who I saw that I could model my life after. I didn’t see too many people who looked like me working with puppets.”
Now, Zamora said she can feel the weight of what it means to be a Latinx puppeteer on her shoulders. Before, she would walk into big meetings with creative groups and not realize she was the only woman of color there. Today, it’s different. “It took me years to acknowledge that,” she said. “But now, I put up my puppet with pride.”
In 2000, Zamora founded Viva la Puppet with her husband Matias to work with artists dedicated to the art of puppetry. As the CEO and creative director of the company, she said she is always looking for diverse voices from emerging talent. Viva la Puppet built some of the puppets seen on Waffles + Mochi, including a bumblebee that hangs around the First Lady for much of the series.
“There are not that many people of color who are puppeteers to pull from, so I want to take ownership of that,” Zamora said. “We need to be the ones to lift them up and give them the experience they’re looking for.”
With Waffles + Mochi, Zamora looks forward to continuing her career in puppetry and introducing audiences to new and interesting characters. She hopes it inspires kids out there to recognize their creativity and talent–whether that’s in puppetry or in something like music or visual arts.
“Kids should follow that little voice inside them saying, ‘I need to do this,’” Zamora said. “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from following your joy.”
Waffles + Mochi premieres on Netflix March 16.