Can you tell me how to get to KCC?

Leadership Kaua‘i hosts “Sesame Street” star Sonia Manzano

by Lanaly Cabalo – THE GARDEN ISLAND

Sonia Manzano is a first-generation American of Latino descent, an accomplished actress and author of “No Dogs Allowed.” But most probably know her as “Maria” from the popular children’s show “Sesame Street.”

On a show filled with beloved characters, though, Manzano liked the biggest curmudgeon, or grouch, the most.

“Oscar was my favorite,” she said.

Manzano is on-island to give a talk for the Leadership Kaua‘i Speaker Series, slated for Friday at 6 p.m. at the Kaua‘i Community College Performing Arts Center.

“I’m going to be talking about diversity and what it’s like living in a diverse society,” she said.

Growing up, she considered herself as “bicultural,” learning both Puerto Rican and American cultures. She will share her own multicultural experiences during her talk.

“I think people of Hawai‘i might be able to relate to some of the things I have to share, because my parents are from this small island and Hawai‘i is a group of islands.”

She will also discuss her work on “Sesame Street.”

“I’ll talk about why the puppets worked for children and why they love and relate to them,” she said. “I loved watching Jim Henson work. He was such a visionary. So I’ll be talking some serious stuff, but definitely some fun stuff as well.”

Manzano is not new to the island. She visited here 30 years ago, while filming a few episodes of “Sesame Street.”

“I can’t be quite sure, but I think we introduced the character ‘Snuffleupagus’ here in one of the episodes,” she said. “That’s why I was curious to go back to the Sleeping Giant. I think we introduced him there.”

Mason Chock of Leadership Kaua‘i sees her visit as a good way for the community and educators to learn about the origin of early childhood education and where its headed.

“This is a chance to see where it all started,” Chock said. “From shows like ‘Sesame Street’ we now have Dora and Barney.”

Chock thinks her talk will be helpful for Kaua‘i and its education system.

“Maybe we can take some of those lessons of multiculturalism and apply them to what we have here,” Chock said.

Leadership Kaua‘i is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing adult and youth programs to the island. The Kaua‘i Speaker Series is in its second season. Organizers bring in motivational speakers from different fields for it.

Manzano, who travels across the country with talks on multiculturalism, flew to Kaua‘i expressly for the series.

“Clearly this organization is concerned about leadership,” she said. “I wanted to do this because their vision of a leader aligns with my views on leadership. I believe a leader mends bridges.”

Families are welcome to come to the talk.

The cost is $10 per person, $5 per student, including educators.

Tickets are available at Deja Vu Surfwear, Borders Books & Music, Scotty’s Music, Larry’s Music, M. Miura Store, Hanalei Video & Music, the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Kaua‘i.

A book signing will follow.

For more information, call 246-8727.

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