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Sonia Manzano is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs.
Okay, now that my personal feelings are out, let’s talk about Sonia Manzano, the prolific actress. She gave life to Maria on Sesame Street and helped raise millions upon millions of children (and parents) worldwide for nearly 50 years. While that is what Manzano is most well-known for, she is so much more.
Manzano’s parents, both from Puerto Rico, came to the South Bronx, where Manzano was born and raised. Manzano’s teachers recognized a shining personality and talent in her at an early age. Through their encouragement, she auditioned for the New York High School of Performing Arts, where she was accepted.
It was the starting point of her acting career, carrying her from high school to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. In her junior year at Carnegie, she was cast in the original production of Godspell.
The move to New York would end up a fortuitous one for Manzano and, honestly, for the rest of society.
Within a year of being cast in Godspell, she began working for Sesame Street. Her decades-long career there led her to act on the show and write quite a few of the scripts, incredibly centralized around the Maria storyline. Over her 44-year career, her work garnered her 15 Emmy awards for writing and two nominations for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series.
While the awards and accolades tell so many what they already need to know, the work that Manzano spearheaded with Sesame Street was monumental for Latino children finding positive representation in television. Through their formative years, children who watched the show were able to see a reflection of themselves – alive, moving, taking part in the beauty of life, and discovering the knowledge of the world around them. They could see themselves as artists, doctors, writers, and business owners, all through the work of people like Manzano.
On top of her work with Sesame Street, Manzano has written for the Peabody Award-winning children’s series Little Bill, has appeared in movies like The Muppets Take Manhattan, and made guest appearances on shows seemingly outside of her wheelhouse, such as Law and Order. Her talents have also taken her into the publishing world, with children’s books, young adult novels, and a personal memoir entitled Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx.
Manzano has consistently created a safe place for children and adults to see themselves represented in spaces they are traditionally gate-kept from. Through her work, she has given so many a place to feel seen. She acts as a representative of all that can come through el poder de las Latinas.
By Liv Styler
Olivia Monahan Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.
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