Written by Staff Writer at CNN
Actress Sonia Manzano, known for her iconic role as Maria on “Sesame Street,” is in her final year of a fellowship program at the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) with the goal of spurring diversity in television.
NMDC’s Representation Fellowship, which was unveiled in October, is an annual two-week program in which female actors, directors, producers and writers, were to hone their craft — and in Manzano’s case, get comfortable with her Filipino heritage.
Sonia Manzano is in the final year of her fellowship program at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Jose Luis Sanchez/National Hispanic Media Coalition
“We make the assumption that any Latino being on TV in the United States is Latino, and that they don’t have something to say and they are not creating anything,” NMDC President and CEO Alex Nogales told CNN. “That is absolutely NOT true.”
Manzano, who appeared in nearly 100 episodes of “Sesame Street” over the course of her 39-year career, added her voice to the ‘Matriarchy, Inc.’ project, an annual conference for women artists and activists running from November 11 – 17. On the program’s first day, she shared her own journey of breaking through barriers and speaking truth to power.
Sonia Manzano was best known for her role as Maria on “Sesame Street.”
“There are many scripts that I was offered when I was younger that I turned down because I felt that there was something really positive and meaningful about it,” she told the audience. “The message they were trying to send was that you really cannot succeed in the world unless you do what other people expect of you. If you look pretty, you must be privileged.”
She added that other agents contacted her in 2015 after her untimely death to appeal to her “to keep working so that the Latino identity doesn’t disappear.”
However, she said, before the ‘Matriarchy, Inc.’ conference, she had not heard from anyone at the studio that she had been hired for her last role.
“This morning, I received a phone call and they told me that [the] role I’ve been auditioning for has been given to another Latina,” Manzano said. “Just an amazing compliment. When you’re No. 1, that’s the highest honor that anyone can give you.”
Sonia Manzano is now in her final year of a fellowship program with the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Jose Luis Sanchez/National Hispanic Media Coalition
Manzano played Sanchez since 1984 and was a founding member of the company’s Look for Excellence (“Look for Excellence” or “Helmet”) program, which launched in 1986.
“What I learned through that process is that what is important is being authentic to yourself,” she said. “When someone asks you what your ethnic background is, don’t lie. Don’t say anything but there was a time when you didn’t know your ethnicity but you were somebody else.”
Manzano was nominated for a 2016 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her role as an inmate on “Ozark.”
Nogales called Manzano “one of the most brilliant and influential” women in the Hispanic community, adding that she fought for diversity in Hollywood and continues to have an impact today.
The actress, together with fellow pioneers Mónica Núñez and Julieta Vasquez, was recently honored with the first-ever Nancy Luna Awards in June at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, California.