Sonia Manzano, the Puerto Rican actress who has brought to life the character of Maria on PBS’s Sesame Street since 1971, is retiring.
Manzano revealed the news on Monday night, at the American Library Association Annual Conference, though it’s taken a few days for it to reach the masses.
As CNN points out, she’s spent her time since the announcement calming down bereft fans on Twitter.
Besides being a character on the show, Manzano is also a writer for it, helping Sesame Street win numerous (15!) Emmy awards, though she’s been nominated for a couple herself for acting. At the ALA Conference, she told the crowd that she considers Sesame Street the “first reality show” because her pregnancy was written into her character’s storyline, and her daughter eventually played her daughter on the show.
In August, Manzano’s memoir Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx about growing up in New York City in a troubled home dreaming of becoming an actress will be released. She’s also written several other books for children.
“It’s sometimes a challenge to get across to young people that when I was a kid there were no people of color on television, and there were no people of color in books either, primarily,” she said in an interview with the ALA, explaining that watching the movie West Side Story changed her life. “I grew up wondering how I was going to contribute to a society that couldn’t see me, because I felt invisible, somewhat.”
“I found sanctuary in stories when they were available to me,” she went on to say, adding that she hopes kids who read her new book “like it, and that they see that you can make something out of any life. I didn’t become Maria in spite of my childhood, I became Maria because of my childhood.
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Image via Ricard Termine/PBS