For the last 44 years, you could ask Maria how to get to Sesame Street, but not any more. Sonia Manzano, the actress who has played the character since 1971, is retiring and won’t be part of the next season.
Manzano, 65, announced the news earlier this week at the American Library Association Annual Conference.
On the show, Maria owned the Fix-It shop, repairing all sorts of things, including a lot of toasters, with her husband Luis, writes the Associated Press:
“In confirming Manzano’s retirement, Sesame Workshop said ‘she will always be a part of the fabric of our neighborhood. During her 44-year career as the iconic “Maria,” and the first leading Latina woman on television, she was a role model for young girls and women for generations.’ ”
The AV Club writes that she was nominated for an Emmy Award twice as an actress but didn’t win. She did win 15 of the awards as a scriptwriter for the show.
Manzano grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx. She attended Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Her acting career began when she was in the original cast of Godspell, a musical which began as a student production on campus, according to the AP.
She talked about Sesame Street at the ALA conference:
“Sesame Street, as everyone knows, was set in the inner city and there was a particular reason for that. Our first target audience were the children in the inner city that were underserved. And we thought that if they learned their basic cognitive skills, they could start kindergarten on an even level with their middle-class peers. And it was a very idealistic time — we thought we’d, like, close the education gap by doing that.
“But the first thing we had do to was make sure kids in the inner city could relate to us, and what better way to do that than have the show come to them from a place that was familiar to them. And the stoop in Harlem was the most familiar to them.”
Here’s a clip of Maria helping Oscar the Grouch:
How will Sesame Street solve the problem of Maria’s absence? The AP says that Sesame Workshop hasn’t explained how that will play out on the show.