Sesame Street's much-loved 'Maria' is leaving the show

NEW YORK - Actress Sonia Manzano announced this week at the American Library Association's conference that she would be leaving her role of Maria on Sesame Street, a part she has played for 44 years.

The actress, 65, has played the character since 1971. She owned the Fix-It shop on the show, where -among other things - she repaired a large number of toasters, and played the now-famous game: "One of these things is not like the others."

While the news of her departure was met with nostalgia and sadness among fans of the show, CNN reports that Manzano has hinted that she might return for a cameo on the children's programme's 50th anniversary.

Manzano won 15 Daytime Emmys for her writing work on Sesame Street. Her character helped Sesame Street characters navigate a host of challenging issues, including pregnancy, breast-feeding, AIDS and HIV, disability and death - and through them, their young viewers.

The Washington Post collected responses from fans on social media, who said she was "the first Latina I saw on TV in the 70s!", "you taught me my first words in Spanish" and "you played a huge part in my early fascination with other languages and cultures".

Manzano attended Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts before going on to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She was part of the original cast of the musical Godspell when it began as a student production on the Carnegie Mellon campus, reports the Associated Press.

When she was 21, she auditioned for Sesame Street. She has also authored two children's books and has an upcoming memoir.

The Sesame Workshop confirmed her retirement, and said in a statement that "she will always be a part of the fabric of our neighborhood. During her 44-year career as the iconic Maria, and the first leading Latina woman on television, she was a role model for young girls and women for generations."