No one ever was going to mistake her for June Cleaver (or Barbara Billingsley, for that mater, um, matter). Sonia Manzano — aka Maria, friend, girlfriend, wife and unshakably empathic TV mom to the children of Baby Boomers everywhere, will receive the Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ 43rd annual Daytime Emmys on May 1 in Los Angeles.
he award will have to shimmy onto a crowded shelf; Manzano, who retired last summer after 45 years on Sesame Street, already has shared in 15 Emmys for her work as a writer on the groundbreaking public television show.
“My children and just about every child in America has grown up learning their ABC’s from the iconic character of Maria on Sesame Street played by Sonia Manzano,” said NATAS President Bob Mauro. “Sonia not only brought the life events of marriage, having a baby and being a mother to viewers young and old, she also brought a seldom-seen diversity, a Latin role model, unlike anything on television at the time.”
A borinqueña daughter of the South Bronx and graduate of NYC’s famed High School of the Performing Arts, Manzano made her professional debut in the original off-Broadway cast of Godspell before joining Sesame Street in 1971. Her own life — from teenager through growing up, marrying and becoming a mother — was integrated into the complex social fabric of Sesame Street, the Peyton Place of the pre-pubescent set. Maria was nothing like the flawless moms of Billingsley or Donna Reed, though she did share a link to Lucille Ball, whose I Love Lucy was another family show with a strong Latin link that used Ball’s marriage to Desi Arnaz as the basis of many an episode.
Community activist, occasional stage actress and author, Manzano wrote a memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, that was published in August by Scholastic Press.