Manzano: Sesame Street gives Hispanics a media role

Students re–lived their childhood as they watched a furry blue monster sing in Spanish and other off-beat creatures sing and dance as part of a video montage introducing guest speaker Sonia Manzano. Manzano, known as “Maria” from “Sesame Street,” gave a lecture, “One, Two Three: Who put Latins on TV?”

It was part of the College’s Multicultural Lecture series that hopes to broaden the student body’s understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures represented on campus.

Manzano, who looked as though she has not aged since the first time she appeared on the show 30 years ago, spoke about the need to develop one’s character. She also stressed the importance of having diversity in the media.

During her childhood, Manzano said television was her escape. Yet television made her feel more isolated and alone. As a child, Manzano would ask, “How can I watch hours of television and not see anyone that looked like me?” She did not have role models to draw from for comfort and support because society and the media did not portry the Hispanic population.

“I felt I did not exist in the world,” Manzano said. “I didn’t have images of people like me living, contributing. Not having any role models made my world seem even smaller.”

However, Manzano credits “Sesame Street” for changing this for Hispanics and other minorities.

“Sesame Street provides something that I did not have growing up; images of real Latin people existing in society,” she said. “It spoke to children from inner city streets, from stoops, by trash cans.”

The urban environment of “Sesame Street” allowed underprivileged children to see something familiar on television, which in turn, improved their self-esteem and confidence levels, Manzano said.

Through “Sesame Street”, Manzano has affected generations of children.

“I grew up with her,” Vanessa De Jesus, senior elementary education and psychology major, said. “Just seeing her in the media had a big impact on my outlook on myself and my culture.”

Even though the program helped the media to recognize the importance of minority groups in America, Manzano said Hispanics and other minorities must still push to be fully represented in the media. She cites comedian John Leguizamo as one of her role models and as someone who has the right idea about what Hispanics need to do next. “He says there needs to be more Latins behind the scenes, in decision-making positions,” said Manzano. “He’s the first person I’ve heard to say this.”

Addressing the entire audience, Manzano urged all people to take chances and strive to make a difference in the world. “You can’t put limits on yourself,” she said. “The world is yours to impact.”