The 20 Most Influential Latino Characters Past And Present Who Changed Our Lives
It’s no secret that the characters we see on TV and the big screen hugely influence each of our psyches, and seep into society’s stereotypes. Growing up, we had very few Latino characters to look to on screen, but the ones that were there made a huge impact on us. We got to see a glorified example of how Latinos navigate this world, and as more Latinos take control in developing these characters, they’re more and more often representing who we really are: hella diverse in profession, skin color, dreams, and personalities.
Pues nos vamos, and we hope you agree that these are the gente that give Latinos permission to be whoever they want to be.
Gabrielle Solis in “Desperate Housewives”
While Eva Longoria worked for ten long years in entertainment before her breakout role as Gabrielle Solis in “Desperate Housewives,” Solis has given her a major platform. She’s founded the Latino Victory Project and is super active in immigration reform legislation.
Plus, whatever you think of the show, we’re glad there was at least one Latinx family livin’ it up in the upper middle class.
Eva Rodriguez in “Center Stage”
Eva Rodriguez, played by Afro-Dominican Zoe Saldana, in “Center Stage” (2000) was my actual idol growing up. My primas y yo were all in ballet together for a decade, and watching Eva give everyone that Latina attitude was everything. The best part was when she shocked everyone (specifically the racists) by stepping in last minute for the lead role.
Veronica Lodge in “Riverdale”
Okay, yes. The Lodge Family is kind of enemy No. 1 on the show, and Veronica’s villainous super rich dad is confusingly hateful and sexy, but Veronica is an evolution. At first, we see her vie for her parent’s approval (so relatable), but ultimately relies on her integrity, which puts her at odds with her family. Regardless, it’s so much more exciting to watch a wealthy, sassy, elegant Latina play Veronica Lodge than another rich white girl.
Ruby Martinez in “On My Block”
There are too many loveable Latino characters in Netflix’s “On My Block,” but Ruby is a favorite. He’s not just another funny Latino kid in the background. His character is complex, and we get to know his family, including his abuelita who cannot be denied in anything… including testing out makeup looks and quince dresses.
Ana García in “Real Women Have Curves”
There’s not a single Latina who has not been given life by America Ferrera’s character in “Real Women Have Curves.” This movie came out in 2002, when heroine chic was all the rage and the closest thing to bopo was your abuelita lovingly calling you ‘gordita.’
It was a confusing time for anyone who didn’t wear a size 2, and Ana gave us a newfound feeling of empowerment. We deserve to take up space, and love our bodies because they give us life.
Allegra Acosta in “Marvel’s Runaways”
Finally. Netflix’s “Marvel’s Runaways” has given us a female Latina superhero we can all look up to. She’s the youngest, most optimistic and actual strongest in the clan of superheroes.
Penelope Alvarez in “One Day at a Time”
Thank Netflix for one of the best possible representations of Latinos that exist today. Cuban-American Penelope Alvarez, played by the incredible Justina Machado, is a retired vet, a single mother of two, and the Cuban mother we all swear we’ll be when we grow up.
We get to see her navigate living with her expat, Cuban proud mother (Rita Moreno), a quince-resistant daughter and totally transparent hairy Latina. Glad we can all finally stop pretending we don’t have ‘staches.
Elena Alvarez in “One Day at a Time”
Watching Elena, played by Isabella Gomez, resist traditional customs, while feeling such a sense of community in her Cuban heritage; her coming out as lesbian and being warmly accepted by her super Catholic abuela and her mother; watching her blossom into a character that was so deeply relatable to me that I laughed and cried hysterically is a gift. Thank you to the ODAAT writers for Elena Alvarez.
Oscar Martinez in “The Office”
Did Oscar, played by Oscar Nunez, set his pendejo boss straight with his painfully ignorant and racist comments? Rarely. Somehow, watching accountant Oscar exist with an acute awareness that his identity is reduced to ‘gay Mexican’ in the eyes of some of his coworkers, and find solace in knowing he is by far the smartest, most rational intellect in the room, was a signal to all of us. Just know that we’re better than them and you’ll keep your head held high.
Tony Padilla in “13 Reasons Why”
Today, Tony is one of the few male LGBTQ Latino characters on television and he’s much more complex than you might initially expect. He might look like a tough guy, and he certainly can look out for himself, but don’t expect to see him be victim or perpetrator of any kind of machismo.
Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy”
At first, real life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, faced resistance to allow his obvious Cuban-born accent and Latinidad onto television. The actor and couple persisted and Latino-Americans finally had a Latino to look to on television.
The Villanueva Family in “Jane the Virgin”
The CW has given Latinos what we’ve all been waiting for: a Spanglish telenovela series. We get all the come-back-to-life and evil twin plots we demand in any worthwhile series, but with life stories that matter to us, like immigration and classism.
Four generations of Boricuas under one roof also give at least four Latinxs jobs in television and we’re here for all of that.
Mariana and Jesus Foster in “The Fosters and Good Trouble”
It is pure joy to watch Mariana Foster understand what it means to be Latina, even when you’re adopted into a non-Latino family. We watch her struggle to fit in, dye her hair blond, and reclaim her Latinidad all in one season. She’s a fierce go-getter, and the Jennifer Lopez produced show offers relatable content for anyone with an alcoholic/addict loved one in their lives.
Manny Rodriguez in “Modern Family”
“Modern Family” certainly perpetuates harmful stereotypes about the ‘spicy Latina’ but they got something right with Manny, who is very reminiscent of Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao character. Manny is the antithesis of machismo, a champion for women’s rights, and a major woman-lover, not womanizer. We love seeing a sensitive, smart, Latino kid break stereotypes.
Blanca in “Pose”
Ryan Murphy’s new series, “Pose,” is giving jobs, platforms, and voice for transgender people on the screen. The fifth episode is all about what it was like for Blanca to come out as trans in the ’80s to her Latino family. Try not to sob at MJ Rodriguez’ performance.
Amy Santiago and Rosa Diaz in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Hey look, there’s more than one Latino character on the same show! That means we have more proof that we’re just people, with different personalities, and variations of the same culture. Plus, when Stephanie Beatriz came out as bisexual, the writers had her character, Rosa, come out as well, with Beatriz’ own input changing many of the lines.
Ricky Vasquez in “My So-Called Life”
There was something so special about Rickie Vasquez’ character amidst the sea of ’90s era negative stereotypes of Latino criminals, drug lords, and delinquents. Plus, Rickie might have been one of the first positive gay Latinos on television, showing a character who could use the girls’ bathroom as a safe haven, rock jewelry, and makeup and be loved for it.
Melissa Villaseñor in “Saturday Night Live”
You might say that Villaseñor isn’t a character on SNL, but then I’d just know you haven’t watched SNL. Villaseñor has made history by becoming the first Latina member of the SNL cast, and has played probably hundreds of characters at this point. Proof that we’re funny right there.
Analisa ‘Ana’ Torres in “Grown-ish”
You might think that this Cal U. Latina, conservative Republican freshman isn’t a stereotype, but that’s because nadie ni nadie is doing research into how so many Latinos voted for Trump. The truth is that Ana Torres might be the first nod at this huge reality that made MAGA possible. She’s the daughter of Cuban immigrants, a devout Catholic and has some really absurdo things to say. While I’m not here for her politics, I’m here for the truth, and the truth is, Ana Torres exists tenfold.
Callie Torres in “Grey’s Anatomy”
Unrelated to Ana Torres, Callie Torres was one of the first Latina’s on television with higher education. She was initially created to be disliked by George O’Malley’s friends, but viewers liked her so much that her character changed. Watching her come out to her Catholic father, who initially disowned her, was a heartbreak so many of us have feared.
Callie Torres is also the longest running LGBT character in television history, spanning over 11 seasons and 240+ episodes.