“…And I know there were kids watching me on ‘Sesame Street’ that were going through similar situations, and they were relieved for that hour in better ways than I was.”
Sonia Manzano is an Emmy award-winning actress and writer, but for the past four decades you have known her as Maria from the PBS show “Sesame Street.” Manzano joined the cast during a time when few Latinas were represented on television, and spent four decades portraying the beloved character until she announced her retirement this past summer.
Fans of all ages were sad to see her go, but what may be even more surprising came after Manzano left the show and released her memoir.
In “Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx,” Manzano reveals an upbringing that runs counter to the safe and sunny environment she helped create on air. Manzano said she grew up with an alcoholic father who often abused her mother.
“Well certainly it was very weird because my mother would hide the knives in the oven, and I’d say ‘why are you hiding the knives in the oven?’ And she’d say, ‘Oh, no reason.’ So there was always this ambivalent feeling,” she told MetroFocus Host Rafael Pi Roman.
Mazano says writing the memoir brought her some relief after the experiences in her childhood, but she says she also wanted the book to demonstrate how it helped shape the actress behind such an adored character.
“But what I want to bring across in the book is that, people say you overcome a tough childhood to succeed. And I believe that you can embrace your childhood to succeed and use it and not forget it. Because I felt comfort watching television,” Manzano said. “So there’s something appearing to me about ending up in a career that offers comfort through television as well, and I know there were kids watching me on ‘Sesame Street’ that were going through similar situations and they were relieved for that hour in better ways than I was.”
Since her retirement, Manzano says fans have opened up to her about how they helped her during rough times in their childhood.
In this interview, Manzano discusses her relationship with her father today, advice she would’ve given a young Sonia and how she wants to continue helping children even after Sesame Street.
(Feature photo courtesy Richard Termine)