DANBURY, Conn. — When Sonia Manzano speaks Saturday at the Hometown Heroes Benefit Dinner in Danbury, the “Sesame Street” star’s personal story of growing up in a working poor family will resonate with the crowd.
She is giving the keynote address at the United Way of Western Connecticut’s event to benefit ALICE families, or those who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed.
“I am familiar with these kinds of households,” Manzano, who played the groundbreaking role of Maria on the beloved children’s show for 44 years, told the Daily Voice. “I certainly came from one.”
Manzano, 65, was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx by her parents, who were from Puerto Rico. She writes of her struggles growing up in her new memoir, “Becoming Maria: Love And Chaos In The South Bronx.”
“Your existence is very precarious -- and everything has to work like machinery,” she said, pointing out that both of her parents worked nine hours a day or more. “A kid got sick, or you got a flat tire, it threw the whole system out of whack. It might be just a flat tire, but it could be a lost day’s wages if you can’t get to work."
“I’m impressed that the United Way helps people, zeros in on their needs,” Manzano said. “This is attuned to help working people through these slippery patches.”
She quoted Sen. Elizabeth Warren in summing up what life can be like for the working poor: “It’s stacked against them.” And Manzano applauded the United Way and its Hometown Heroes.
“They should be appreciated for the work they do, for being compassionate, which is not always considered a good quality in our cynical society.”
Manzano was one of the first Latins on television, playing half of the beloved couple of Maria and Luis, who ran the Fix It Shop. She is proud of the legacy of the show, which was targeted to teach inner-city youngsters who might not attend preschool about letters, numbers and concepts.
She admits to having a soft spot for Oscar the Grouch, calling her favorite Muppet “nuanced.”
“He and I had a deeper relationship — I liked him even though he’s a grouch!”
The event will begin with cocktails at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at The Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury, with Manzano and event emcee, NFL stadium announcer John Heffernan. Cocktails and a silent auction begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction.
It will honor Hometown Heroes, including: Brotherhood In Action of Bethel; Susan Ludwig of Brookfield; Jackie Morrison of Danbury; John and Amy Pendergast of New Fairfield; Peter D’Amico of Newtown; and Allison Stockel of Ridgefield.
For further information and to purchase tickets, visit the United Way website or call 203-792-5330.
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