“Sonia Manzano, the beloved writer and actress best known as Maria fromSesame Street, has a presence so familiar it’s strange to think we’ve never actually met. Without thinking, I hug her “hello” like she’s a relative, someone I’ve known since before I can remember—forgetting for a second that to her, I’m a stranger.
She hugs me back anyway—then cracks a joke about the coffee shop where we’re sitting: “Café Grumpy, what a funny name. Great place to meet Oscar the Grouch!”
Manzano played Maria for 44 years on Sesame Street, guiding generations of kids through everything from the alphabet to feminism to 9/11—so she’s used to awkwardly impassioned greetings from fans. Sometimes they’re funny (“You were my girlfriend!”) and sometimes they’re sad (“I was abused as a child but when I watched you for that hour every day, I was comforted.”)
And sometimes they’re mind-boggling. “I’ve heard Anglos from the Midwest say, ‘You were the first Latina I ever knew’ and I think, ‘Wait a second, there’s no Latin people out in the Midwest?’” she says. “Then I think what they really mean is I was the first one they saw as a real human being. And so that’s very gratifying.”
Manzano, 65, unwittingly prompted a day of mourning on social media in July when she casually broke the news of her Sesame Street retirement to a group of librarians from the American Library Association. She had made the decision in between the show’s 45th and 46th seasons, which means there will be no onscreen goodbye to Maria. “I just sort of fade off into the distance,” Manzano says, laughing…”