25 Latino TV And Movie Characters That Stole Your Niñez
If you grew up in the 90s, you’re aware of how different TV looks today vs. back in the day. In an era packed with so many Latina stars like Gina Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Selena Gomez, and Jennifer Lopez it’s kind of weird to look back and remember how absent such faces were almost two decades ago. Why? Because straight up: flipping on the TV and finding Latino TV and movie characters was quite a rarity in the 90s. Fortunately, there were a few characters around to shape our understanding of what it meant to be Latino in our youth.
Here’s to the trendy, geeky, rebellious Latino TV and movie characters who gave us strange new feelings, nuanced understandings of sexuality, and brought a bit more color to whitewashed screens.
1. Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez from “The Sandlot”
CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
Okay, hold up. First. Just look at those eyes^^^^^^^
There’s no denying that this brown-eyed heartthrob had a huge influence in the spark of your sexual awakening. Not only was Benny the cutest guy on the team, he also shined through as the team’s star player and went on to the Dodgers. All this despite the times and the white suburban neighborhood he lived in. 100% Benny is an inspiration and credit to Latinos who knock their dreams out of the park. Seriously, get yourself a major leaguer like this guy.
2. Sam Swoboda from “P.U.N.K.S.”
Jessica Alba’s character, Sam, was one mean girl in this flick about a group of bullied teens aiming to shut down a corrupted company. For those of us who had a limited view of the parameters of what Latina could be, Sam’s character was a massive wakeup call. Sure, makeup and dresses can be our thing, but Sam taught us that we could get down and dirty right next to the boys. Even better we could run the show and be leaders of the pack.
3. Rickie Vasquez from “My So-Called Life”
It all seems like yesterday, but looking back at the 90s its hard not to flinch at the reminders of how rampant negative portrayals of Latino characters and homosexuals was. And yet, a positive representation of the LGBT community unexpectedly emerged on a little teen drama called “My So-Called Life.” Rickie Vasquez. He rocked a mean eyeliner, used the girls’ bathroom as a safe haven, and kept his friends in check while remaining fiercely loyal to them. Rickie was a massive launching pad for TV’s understanding of sexual fluidity that the 90s desperately needed.
4. Ruby from “Kids”
There’s no way Mima let you watch this film while you were a kid in the 90s. Bets are that you watched this with one eye on the door and a finger ready to hit “last.” Ruby (played by Cuban Puertorriqueña, Rosario Dawson) was the ringleader of a group of sexually active teenage girls doing quite a lot a little too soon. While Ruby didn’t always shine as a beacon of sexual responsibility, she did open our eyes to dark realities to come in our teen years.
5. A.C. Slater from “Saved by the Bell”
Muscles ― lo siento, Mario ― Mario Lopez portrayed U.S. Army Brat A.C. Slater and took things to a next level for us (sexuality wise) after Benny Rodriguez. One peck ripple from A.C. and there’s no questioning what stripped us of the remainder of our Latina youth. And still, despite A.C’s heritage never being a thing in the early days of SBTB (though, there is an entire episode dedicated to Slater discovering his Chicano identity in “The College Years”) we all knew what was up. Besides Lisa Turtle, A.C. was one of the few people of color portrayed on the show which was a big deal considering how massive the show was. It always felt good knowing that we could flip on the TV and see someone who looked like us. LBR, especially one that was so guapo.
6. Ashley Banks from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
CREDIT: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Ashley Banks herself might not have been a Latina character, but Tatyana M. Ali whose parents are Trinidadian and Panamanian identifies herself as Afro-Latina. As a non-Latina character on the show, there’s no doubt Ashely still had some influence on us as kids. She was a smart, beautiful and witty girl of color and TV was missing quite a bit of that. While initially young Ashley did her best to model her dope older cousin Will, it wasn’t long before she began to grow into her own. She developed her own taste in music and fashion all while pushing against the tight reins of father Phil. In short, she became ultimate #rebelforindepence goals.
7. Selena Quintanilla from “Selena”
CREDIT: Warner Bros.
Of course, Selena tops this list (she will never stop topping lists and don’t you ever forget that). Selena is, was, has, and always will be the ultimate on-screen big older sister for Latinas everywhere. Ask any Latina who grew up in the 90s which female character inspired her the most as a woman and find us a gal who doesn’t name Selena. That’s because she taught all about the washing machine, the power of will, grace, and how bras could moonlight as bustiers. For that, everyone should be incredibly grateful.
8. Taina Morales from “Taina”
“I know I can’t wait to see my name in lights. No one’s gonna stop me, you’ll see,” went the theme song to the Nickelodeon hit series Taina. The two-season show was about a young Latina, played by Puerto Rican actress Christina Vidal, growing up in Queens, New York who had dreams of becoming a star. With her determination and dedication, we watched her try to make it to the top and conquer her superstardom in high school. The Nuyorican teen showed us what growing up Latina was all about. In Taina, we saw a girl like us, someone hoping for the perfect quinceañera, gushing over crushes, struggling to write in Spanish, trying to understand the African, indigenous and Spaniard influence on Latinx culture and relatives who always worked to instill Boricua pride. She stayed true to her heritage while never giving up on her dreams, and we needed to see that.
9. Channel Simmons from “The Cheetah Girls”
Over on the Disney Channel, Channel “Chuchie” Simmons brought all the Latina flavor to the hit TV film “The Cheetah Girls.” The movie is about four New York teenagers who are trying to get their music group to go big time. Chuchie, played by Puerto Rican-Ecuadorian singer-actress-host Adrienne Bailon, particularly embraced her Latina culture in the second film, when the girls visited Spain, but she was relatable to all young viewers. While juggling friendship problems, her mom’s dating life and trying to make it to the top, she was never afraid to speak her mind, just like the Latinas we know and love in our real lives. Even through the Cheetahlicious breakups (because there were many), she remained strong and held the group together.
10. Miranda Sanchez from “Lizzie McGuire”
Lizzie McGuire’s right-hand girl was BFF goals: loyal, funny and always stylish — oh, and she’s mexicana. In the hit series, Miranda Sanchez, portrayed by Filipino-American actress Lalaine Vergara-Paras, celebrated Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition showing her character getting in touch with her roots, and spoke Spanish. Miranda always had a unique fashion sense and bold hair styles in every episode, which is part of what made her character so interesting. She embraced sisterhood and friendship, making her the best friend many young girls wished to have in real life.
11. Alex Russo from “Wizards of Waverly Place”
Mexican-Italian Alex Russo, played by Selena Gomez, was the protagonist of Wizards of Waverly Place, a Disney Channel series about siblings whose parents were teaching them how to master their wizardry. Alex, a New York-based high schooler, had a very strong personality and bold attitude. The series was one of the first to portray a biracial Latina lead, showing the teen struggling to speak Spanish and embracing her mother’s traditions by having a quinceañera. As more Latinas intermarry, this representation is ever more imperative.
12. LaCienega Boulevardez from “The Proud Family”
Also on the Disney Channel was Lacienega Boulevardez, an Afro-Latina character on the cartoon The Proud Family. Voiced by dominicana Alisa Reyes, Boulevardez wasn’t always the nicest. She was the frenemy and neighbor of Penny Proud, the protagonist of the show. But with her name and bold personality, there is no forgetting her. She was vital because she was one of the first representations of a Black Latina, allowing many young viewers to be able to say, “she looks just like me.”
13. Carmen Cortez from “Spy Kids”
CREDIT: Dimension Films
Carmen Cortez was the definition of a badass Latina! The lead in ”Spy Kids,” a film about young siblings who become spies in attempt to save their parents, her strength and courage were important to display on-screen, not just for young Latinas but rather for girls everywhere. Played by colombiana Alexa PenaVega, Carmen was a strong, fearless and outspoken girl who cared immensely about her family and always fought for what she believed in. In 2001, when “Spy Kids” released, we didn’t see many females, let alone young girls, portrayed in media as brave leaders. It hasn’t been until recently, with shows and films like Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, ”Black Panther,” ”Hidden Figures” and, for the youngsters, Elena of Avalor, that we are beginning to see strong and intelligent women of color being represented in the media, so “Spy Kids” offering this representation was major.
14. Betty Suarez from “Ugly Betty”
CREDIT: “Ugly Betty” /ABC
Betty Suarez was not portrayed as the stereotypical Latina. Her character, played by Honduran-American actress America Ferrera, wasn’t seen as the ideal beauty standard. Typically, Latinas are depicted as sexy, curvy, spicy and sassy women. But Ugly Betty, an ABC series about a smart and hardworking Latina from Queens, New York who lands a job as an assistant for a major fashion magazine, showed young Latinas a different kind of beauty. Betty wasn’t just focused on her looks but was goal-driven and determined to break into media, which she did — even though she dealt with tons of ups and downs along the way. She was unapologetically herself, a trait that every young Latina needed to see.
15. Lorena Garcia from “The Brothers García”
The Brothers García, a Nickelodeon series about a Mexican-American family growing up in San Antonio, Texas, was centered on boys, but Lorena, the sole sister and a twin, stood out. Being the only girl in her family, she had a lot to prove. Played by Puerto Rican-German-Russian actress Vaneza Pitynski, she did just about everything to get her parents’ attention in a home filled with boys — something anyone of us who grew up with brothers knows all about.
16. Tori Vega from “Victorious”
“You don’t have to be afraid to put your dream in action. You’re never gonna fade. You’ll be the main attraction. Not a fantasy, just remember me, when it turns out right,” goes the score for Nickelodeon’s Victorious, a series about a Latina teen who attends a performing arts school. Tori Vega, played by the part-Puerto Rican Victoria Justice, was a character that many young girls could relate to — or aspire to be. She was determined, strong-minded and confident in chasing her dream of becoming a singer while helping her friends achieve their own goals along the way.
17. The entire cast from “East Los High”
Starring Danielle Vega, Gabriel Chavarria, Alicia Sixtos, and Vannessa Vasquez the storylines and characters from the show completely blow our minds every time we tune in.
18. Santana Lopez from “Glee”
Santa was always prepped with withering stank faces / gripe but the proud lesbian was undoubteldy one of the most exciting characters on the show. She was unapologetic about who she was and her love Brittany.
19. Gina Torres from “Firefly”
The Afro-Latina dream had a huge play in the plot’s storyline and was undoubtedly the leader of the pack when it came to this cult show.
20. Dani from “Glee”
Demi Lovato’s character might have only been Introduced in series’ fifth season, but she was KEY to our love for the show. The waitress from NYC captures our love and attention from the get-go.
21. Marco from “Animorphs”
Anyone tuning into Nickelodeon back in the hey-day knows that Marco was the coolest guy on the show. He had a great sense of humor and chose to look at the world with a sense of ease.
22. Cassie from “Animorphs
The most compassionate of the Animorphs, CassieShe was kind and empathetic and often met conflict with a level head.
23. Boonie from “The Luck of the Irish”
CREDIT: Disney Channel
Sure Kyle was at the center of the show but Bonnie Lopez was the the true star of this hit. Bonnie had no issues calling Kyle out on his privilege and ability to coast through life with ease.
24. Gloria from “Cadet Kelly”
CREDIT: Cadet Kelly (2002)
Gloria Ramos, played by Aimee Garcia, might not have been the star of this Disney classic but she sure was the bones of it. Without her help, Kelly never would have been able to ensure that Kelly finishes her course.