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Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street's beloved Maria, to retire from the show after 44 years

Sonia Manzano, known as "Maria" on Sesame Street, announced she is stepping down from her acting role on the children's television show after 44 years. The 15-time Emmy Award winner shared her plans at a conference on Monday:

In the late 1980s, Manzano wrote her own personal marriage and pregnancy into the show, remarking in a 2004 interview, "I was able to use things that really happened to me into scripts by breaking complex emotions like love, marriage, childbirth into something a 4-year old could understand."

In 1995, she joined First Lady Hillary Clinton in a discussion on the role of television in childhood development.

At the time, Manzano recalled being inspired by Sesame Street's inclusion of black and Latino actors before joining the show. "I have never been asked to speak with a Spanish accent," she told the audience. "Race relations is very difficult" to teach children, she explained, "because we're teaching two things at the same time: self-esteem and appreciation of others."

Manzano's work is celebrated as a positive representation of ethnic diversity on television

Manzino has won high praise for her true-to-life portrayal of Latino culture. Her description of American cultural views on race and ethnicity in a 1993 interview can be applied to 22 years later:

"It has always intrigued me how surprised other people are when they see white, black and brown people all belonging to the same Latino family," she said. "They don't understand how we identify along cultural and not racial lines."

Her work has impressed even the most secretive parts of government, as documented in a profile of her work in a 1993 National Security Agency newsletter. But it is Manzano herself who has best captured the joy and inspiration driving her life's work. "When I was raised in the South Bronx as a little girl, I watched an awful lot of television, and it was a big influence on my life," she reflected in 2004, "I saw this black and white world, and I used to wonder where I would fit in this world that didn't seem to see me, so I think it's really interesting that I grew up to be sort of what I needed to see on television."