Sonia-Manzano-by-Oscars-canThis must be the last picture taken of me on the Sesame Street set as Maria. (I always liked to be photographed by Oscar’s can so I could be associated with my favorite Muppet character.)

After the news of my retirement from Sesame Street became so public I look at this photo and ponder all that’s been said. I don’t want to come across as being falsely modest, I always knew the effect the show had on people, but it was, and is still gratifying to hear it from so many individuals. The outpouring of love and affection has been over whelming. Folks have said everything I want to hear; that they grew up on the show, that I had impacted on their lives, that they related to me and I was their favorite character. Some have even said I was the first Latina they ever knew off.

It has made me feel wonderful.

I remember first seeing the show at the student union of Carnegie-Melon University. In the funk of anger I was always in, I watched James Earl Jones recite the alphabet in a very deliberate manner as the letters flashed over his head. I thought it was a show that taught lip reading. But seeing Susan and Gordon talking to me from a neighborhood that resembled many of the Bronx neighborhoods I had lived in lifted my spirits! I was hooked.

My love affair with television had began long before, as I watched hours of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best on a tiny black and white set, in the mid-fifties in the Bronx. The world I saw was not the one I lived in and I wondered where I would eventually fit it.

People have asked why I’ve stayed so long on the show. I came of age in the late 60’s, a very idealistic time in America. Students were taking over college campuses and the Civil Rights movement was at its peak. I was in the throes of idealistic fervor and Sesame Street fanned the flames. Sesame Street set out to close the education gap and to do its share to eliminate racism. I wanted to help them do it.

People want to know why I chose this particular moment to leave? Of course, there are many answers. The short one is that I got the writing bug with my first picture book No Dogs Allowed and now want to devote all my time to being an author. But there is also this — my friends and I, perhaps because we love theater, talk about having a third act. As we like a beginning and middle and an end or finale in a theatrical piece, we like it in our lives as well. It is time for me to begin my third act.