Event Recap

A Compelling Conversation with Best-Selling Author and Producer Sonia Manzano at Bunker Hill Community College

Friday, March 10, 2023

Sesame Street cast member and producer, author, and activist talks about her career and new book, “Coming Up Cuban.” 

Bunker Hill Community College’s (BHCC) Compelling Conversations, a multi-decade speakers series featuring leaders at the forefront of equity and justice across a spectrum of fields and perspectives, continued its 2022-23 season with a conversation actor, writer, best-selling author and producer Sonia Manzano on the BHCC Charlestown campus, Thursday, March 9, 2023.  

“Compelling Conversations is one of Bunker Hill Community College’s most cherished traditions,” said BHCC President Pam Y. Eddinger. “This year’s Compelling Conversations are sure to deepen our thinking and our actions around equity and justice in our college community and beyond.” 

In a wide-ranging conversation facilitated by BHCC Associate Vice President and Chief Equity and Compliance Officer Nahomi Carlisle, Esq., Manzano recounted stories from her life and career, spanning the South Bronx to Sesame Street, and dispensing hard-earned wisdom to BHCC students.  

On her status as a trailblazer as a first-generation American and Latin woman on television, Manzano said: “There’s something to be said for not having any footsteps to follow. If you’re the first one, make your own way. You don’t have to be like anybody else. I think that’s an advantage.” 

On finding success on Sesame Street: “At that time, it was such an exciting time to be at Sesame Street. There were only two kids shows on the air. I was raised in an environment where there were no Latin people anywhere. I felt invisible…and because of Sesame Street, that changed.” 

Manzano was introduced by BHCC Professor of Behavioral Sciences Melissa Colón, who asked, “How do I introduce someone who I feel in my heart I have known for decades? Who you feel knows you, but who you’ve actually never met…How do you express the deep sense of amor…admiration, pride…because they made you feel alive, feel seen, feel visible, feel understood?” 

“In this year’s Compelling Conversations, we are amplifying change makers,” said Carlisle. “True progress and sustainable change takes strong leaders. These conversations are opportunities for future leaders to engage in this marathon for equity and justice—a race that no one wins unless everyone wins. We want our community to consider ‘What will be my legacy?’ and then equip them to take the steps to fulfill those aspirations.” 

For more than 40 years, Sonia Manzano inspired, educated, and delighted children and families as "Maria" on Sesame Street. Named among the "25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever" by Latina Magazine, Manzano broke ground as one of the first Hispanic characters on national television. Throughout her career, she has contributed to enriching diversity on television, on the stage, and in the educational realm. A first-generation American of Latin descent, Manzano's tale is one of perseverance and courage as she overcame countless obstacles to become one of the most influential Latinas in television. Manzano was raised in the South Bronx, where her involvement in the arts was inspired by teachers who encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. She was accepted there and began her career as an actress. A scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and in her junior year, she came to New York to star in the original production of the off-Broadway show Godspell. Within a year, Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. She was thrilled to help write the storyline for "Maria's" marriage and birth of "Maria's" baby, played for a while by Manzano's real-life daughter Gabriela.  

Recently, Scholastic and Manzano partnered to launch two middle-grade novels and two picture books. Some of Manzano's other books include her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx (Scholastic), and a Christmas picture book, Miracle of 133rd Street (Simon & Schuster). Becoming Maria was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its "lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx," and calls it a "touching memoir." Kirkus Reviews says, "Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments," with a "stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character." Manzano's recent book, A World Together, aims to promote unity by celebrating cultural and generational diversity. Her latest book, Coming Up Cuban, will be out in April 2022. Coming Up Cuban is set in 1959 and follows the lives of four children whom each represent different intersections of race and class in Cuba.   

This—and all Compelling Conversations—are free and open to the public with registration on the BHCC website at bhcc.edu/cc.