News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by

For Sonia Manzano, 'Becoming Maria' on 'Sesame Street' was fate

Photo: "CHANGE THE PLAN" - Show # 4519 - Sesame Street Production; Director: Ken Diego; television production photographed: Monday, October 28, 2013; 9:00 AM at Kaufman-Astoria Studios; Astoria, New York; Photograph: © 2013 Richard Termine.
Richard Termine
Maria and Luis' wedding on 'Sesame Street.' Maria was played by actress Sonia Manzano, whose memoir, 'Becoming Maria,' was released in 2015.
Big Bird, Maria and Gordon on 'Sesame Street.' Maria was played by actress Sonia Manzano, whose memoir, 'Becoming Maria,' was released in 2015.
Zach Hyman
Elmo and Maria, played by actress Sonia Manzano. Manzano's memoir, 'Becoming Maria,' was released in 2015.
Richard Termine

Listen to story

Download this story 6MB

For nearly 45 years, Sonia Manzano has been known to the world as Maria from "Sesame Street."

Manzano has won 15 Emmys for her writing on the series and received two acting nominations. But how did she get to "Sesame Street"?

It's a topic she writes about in her new memoir, "Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx."

Manzano was inspired to write her own memoir after reading "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt.

"His childhood was so miserable, yet he was able to depict it with wonder and humor," she said. "And I thought to myself, 'I had a miserable childhood. I have wonder and I have humor' ...and I wanted to try my hand at seeing if I could portray my childhood in as a sincere manner as he portrayed his."

She eventually found her way to "Sesame Street" after honing her talents as an actress, and turning down stereotypical roles during a time when she says Latinos were the butt of tacos jokes on television. 

"It was a perfect storm. I found a lot of comfort from my tumultuous childhood watching television of the 1950s, so I think it's interesting that I ended up being a comfort zone for children watching television for comfort as I did," Manzano said.

Manzano has many favorite memories from all her years on the show, including getting married, having a baby, addressing death and having musical guests like Stevie Wonder and salsa singer Celia Cruz.

"I really thought that we had arrived, because nobody knew about Latin music," she said.

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.