This was the overarching theme throughout distinguished lecturer Sonia Manzano’s keynote address at ASU’s 2018 E. James Holland University Symposium on American Values this fall.
Manzano, an author and best known as “Maria” from the award-winning children’s series “Sesame Street,” was one of the first Latina women cast on national television. In her keynote, “Latina/o Representation in the Media, Civil Rights and American Values,” Manzano reflected extensively about her time on “Sesame Street” and the impact she had by being one of the first Latina actresses on the show.
“Sesame Street began in 1969,” she said. “I came to the show in 1971, at a time when the country was starting to change. I was brought in with Emilio [Delgado] to represent Latino children.”
A native of South Bronx, New York, Manzano’s interest in show business began early. While she had an aptitude for it, she never really saw herself making it a career, instead using it as an avenue to get to college. Attributing her casting as Maria to some “good luck and timing,” Manzano was just 21 when she landed the part.
“I was a college student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh,” she explained. “We were doing a show called ‘Godspell,’ and I came to do ‘Godspell’ fully expecting to go back to school, but then I got ‘Sesame Street.’ I always say the most important things happen to you when you really don’t expect it.”
And while she started out as an actress, it wasn’t long before Manzano wanted to be more involved with the show.
“I always say the most important things happen to you when you really don’t expect it.”
“After six years, I felt like I had contributed all I could as an actor,” she said. “Unless you’re a really big star, it’s the lowest level of power. I wanted to contribute more to ‘Sesame Street,’ so I started paying attention to what was going on behind the scenes.”
“Of course I read the scripts because I was acting,” she continued. “I took advantage of being in the environment and knowing the characters very well (her favorite is Oscar the Grouch), and started writing.”
Fifteen Emmys, several books and a Lifetime Achievement Award later, Manzano, now retired from “Sesame Street,” spends her time spreading her message around the country to various audiences. In addition to her keynote address at Angelo State, Manzano spoke with both campus and community guests at dinner events and receptions. She also had a private breakfast with students in the ASU Honors Program.
“I hope students have a sense of how they impact the world they’re going to inherit,” Manzano said. “They cannot be passive. They have to vote. They have to participate so they’re not blindsided when they’re 30.”
“I get a lot out of it because I like to hear other peoples’ points of view,” she continued. “It kind of opens up my mind and gives me new ideas for everything. It inspires me. It opens up my mind to see the world in a different way. That’s why I love to travel and share my ideas with people – it’s a two-way street.”