Last night I found out that Sonia Manzano is retiring from Sesame Street.
As someone who grew up as part of a demographic of kids who were raised by TV because our parents were either too busy working or out there doin too much while dealing with their own struggles to do much more than keep us alive, this news made me want to write some shit.
Sonia Manzano was the first Latina I’d ever seen on American television. This won’t be news to you, but I love TV. And because I was basically raised by my abuelita, I have the best taste. Her favorite TV shows were I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, and the Carol Burnett Show. Shows with strong female characters and smart writing. At night when I was home with my parents, I would call her during commercials and ask her to translate the shit that just went down on telenovelas. And in the mornings, we’d watch Sesame Street.
I realize now how lucky I was that she actually enjoyed watching a show written for children. It helped her learn english and she thought it was funny. Her favorite characters were Luis, Maria and Elmo. Mine were the Grouch and Maria.
I’m fascinated with the idea that something that seems so small, like having a character on a TV show for kids who has equal air time and who looks and talks like my family, who was just a regular ass person, left such a large impression on me at such an early age. If this ain’t proof enough that diversity in the media matters… JK. That is the proof.
As an adult, I can appreciate the whole thing so much more. Sonia Manzano came from Broadway and the original cast of Godspell. She joined the cast of Sesame Street after graduating college and later joined the writing team, writing sketches and her character Maria however she wanted. She has 15 emmy awards. No where on her resume or in these news tributes I’ve seen have labeled her an activist, but she is.
I struggle a lot lately. Toeing the line between activist and writer/performer. I’m always worried that I’m not doing enough as an activist. In fact, I know I’m not doing enough as an activist or a “writer/performer” because all I can do lately is curl up in the fetal position under a blanket and spend entire days in bed. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the idea that I need to be one or the other. I will always be grateful to Sonia Manzano for reminding me that you can do both.