As one of the first leading Latina women on American television, Sonia Manzano, known for her beloved role as Maria on "Sesame Street," helped generations of children learn their letters, numbers and a bit of Spanish. Little did viewers know, however, that Manzano's tumultuous childhood growing up in the South Bronx of New York greatly influenced her approach to the role she took on in 1971 as a 21-year-old.
"There was alcoholism in my family and there was violence and there was love and there was humor. It was a mish-mosh, but I found comfort watching television," Manzano saidTuesday on "CBS This Morning."
As a child, Manzano would watch shows including "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver" for comfort and order, and she thought "Sesame Street" could be that similar show for children who are in the same situation she once was.
"I was the best Maria I could be, because of that childhood, not in spite of it. Because I always remembered myself watching television, and I always remembered how it felt to look for answers, try to put two and two together," Manzano said.
Now, after 44 years and 15 Emmy Awards, Manzano is leaving "Sesame Street" and chronicling her story in her a new memoir, "Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx." Manzano, who says she's been "very gratified" by her role as Maria, is also releasing a children's picture book in September.
As for "Sesame Street's" move to HBO from its longtime home of PBS, Manzano had nothing negative to say.
"It's been on the air a very long time, and 'Sesame Street' has always reflected the times that it existed in. It came out of the '60s and the civil rights movement, and it was a very idealistic show. I think its move to HBO reflects that is still mirroring the society we live in," she said. "So if I'm going to criticize anything, and I'm not, I would criticize the times we live in, not the show."