On Sesame Street, the multi-talented Sonia Manzano has served both as a performer (she's played Maria since the Nixon Administration) and a staff writer (sharing 13 Emmys for writing for a children's series). Recently, TV Guide Online met with Manzano at the Sesame Workshop on New York's Upper West Side to learn all about one of TV's most unique jobs.
TV Guide Online: Maria must be one of the longest-running characters on television. You're right up there with Susan Lucci's Erica on All My Children!
Sonia Manzano: Right. In the beginning, she used to run a lending library in a bookstore where the fix-it shop is now. In those days, 20-year-olds looked 14, not like today. So I kinda came on the show as a "teen." I've been able to be the same character — albeit one that fell in love, got married, had a baby, grew up. I've been able to grow and change on the show, which is wonderful.
TVGO: Over the years, do you think many kids have had their first exposure to a Hispanic person through Maria?
Manzano: I've had a lot of people from the Midwest say to me that I was the first Latina they'd ever seen. I find that hard to believe. I think that what they mean is that I was the first Latina they ever noticed. To the kids watching, I'm not a Puerto Rican; I'm just Maria. The know me as an individual, just as they know Susan, Gordon and Bob. That's the trick. Be an individual person, not the generic ethnic type that creeps into a lot of children's shows. We want people to see Latins as having the same dreams and hopes as anyone else.
TVGO: How many years was Maria single before Luis came courting?
Manzano: Over 10 years! Luis and I came on the show together. [The two characters] were just friends. Then, I fell in love [in real life], married and planned on having a baby. The producer said, "Well, how are you gonna be on Sesame Street if you're pregnant?" Then, they decided to sort of incorporate my real life into Maria's life. Kids do deal with siblings coming into the family and how to deal with a new baby. We put the words in Big Bird's mouth: "Oh, a new baby's coming. Does that mean you don't want me anymore or love me or take care of me?"
TVGO: Is it true that your pregnancy inspired the show to dedicate part of a season to the subject of babies?
Manzano: Yes. We've always used reality when we could, like when Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) died.
TVGO: Where exactly is Sesame Street? Can you tell me how to get there?
Manzano: It's a remarkable thing about that. I'll be somewhere in the country with children, somewhere out in the farmland, with not a city anywhere in sight. And when I'll ask the kids, "Where's Sesame Street?" they always say, "Right here" — even though there's nothing in their environment that remotely looks like it.
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