Representation is extremely important onscreen for viewers to see a reality that matches theirs or the kind of future they could have. Historically, when it comes to Latina characters, they are stereotypically cast as the help, criminals, or the mistress. TV portrayed only a certain kind of life that these women were leading without allowing their Latina audience to see a different future for themselves.
However, as times changed, TV started changing too. Now viewers got to see that Latina characters (and Latina women in general) can be anything they set their mind to. Whether they are detectives, housewives, high school students, or tech-savvy geniuses, here are 10 of those groundbreaking characters.
In 2004, the streets of Wisteria Lane opened to the public and everybody got to meet the ladies of Desperate Housewives. Although most of the original housewives fell under the stereotypical white lady portrayal, Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) introduced the Latina factor into this group of friends.
Everyone admired her physically, but as the seasons went by, Gabrielle Solis proved to be much more than her body — she had a unique personality that allowed her to shine through the screen. As someone who didn’t want to be a mother but later had two daughters, she showed the struggles of motherhood in a different light. Her storyline portrayed how a woman’s body can change and how to adjust to that. But it also highlighted how to deal with infidelity, a spouse’s illness, and the complexity of being a mother and a friend.
Detective Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine was the kind of woman who didn’t take anyone’s crap and wasn’t afraid to fight. Her introverted personality and her RBF made her stand out from the rest of the team. She was never overly emotional, but loved everyone in her squad room and was willing to kill for them.
Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) also came out as bisexual during the show, portraying how a woman belonging to two minority groups was still able to lead a successful life. In Diaz, Latina viewers were able to see different career paths and ways of dealing with life that did not include becoming a criminal.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine gave us two Latina characters that were equally important and weren’t portrayed as enemies or rivals. On the contrary, Diaz and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) were actually friends and always had each other’s back. Santiago and her family were always proud of their heritage and where they came from, and that was something the show highlighted every time her parents came into town.
Santiago goes from detective to chief, showing that being career-oriented can pay off. Her structured system and her organization were a way for her to reach her goals and become the kind of woman she always dreamed of. Even after becoming a mother, her career continued to be a priority and she was able to balance both parts of her life.
When One Day at a Time was rebooted on Netflix, every queer Latina viewer either fell in love with Elena Alvarez (Isabella Gómez) or related to her story. On the one hand, she was a young queer girl trying to come out in a very religious family. That is something a large part of the Latina community can relate to as so much of the culture is connected to religion. Although Elena’s dad wasn’t okay with her sexuality, the show gave a sense of hope as the rest of her family was supportive.
On the other hand, Elena represented a part of the Latina community that is very relevant, particularly in immigrant families. As families move from their country of origin and have children where they have relocated, not everyone teaches their children their language. That was Elena’s situation as she was a member of the Alvarez family who didn’t speak Spanish. Still, she learned from her culture and honored it.
Orange is the New Black’s Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva) falls into the stereotype of Latina characters being portrayed as criminals. However, Mendoza’s storyline proves there is much more to her character than the crime she has committed. She is a woman who moved countries to give her children a better life. Although this didn’t work out in her favor, she never stopped trying.
As she spends more time in prison, she becomes a mother figure to many of the girls around her. She never lost that sense of taking care of someone else and making sure those she loved are safe. At one point, she even took over the kitchen, showing women can be in charge.
Ugly Betty’s story wants to prove that women who aren’t canonically seen as beautiful and don’t fit into a particular mold are still able to succeed and land a good-looking man (in this case). America Ferrera’s portrayal of Betty Suarez proves exactly that.
Suarez is able to thrive in an environment that wasn’t designed for women like her to succeed. She overcomes every corporate obstacle in order to reach her goals and prove that she has earned her place. Falling in love is also a part of the game and she does it even though people wouldn’t expect her to land the perfect Prince Charming.
Mariana Adams Foster
Mariana Adams Foster (Cierra Ramirez) was proof that not every Latina comes from the same background. As part of The Fosters, she opened the door to stories of adopted Latinas who lived with people from different backgrounds and cultures, learning to navigate her own culture and that of those around her.
As the character transitioned to Good Trouble, it allowed Mariana to become a Latina woman in the tech world. The show gave an insight into the many issues women face in this industry, particularly in regard to pay and respect from peers. Mariana was able to navigate these issues and come out the other side stronger by creating her own company with her friends.
For many, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofía Vergara) is just a beautiful, young woman who married an older man. Given the fact that Modern Family is a comedy, not many expect the show to raise any issues or discuss how complex life can be for an immigrant woman.
However, there is one particular moment in which Gloria said, “Do you know how frustrating it is to have to translate everything in my head before I say it? Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?” perfectly describing the bilingual experience. Living in a country where your language isn’t the first option, makes it harder for Latina women to communicate. It is a constant job of translating everything in our heads and putting it into words in a way that everyone around will understand.
Judy Reyes brought Carla Espinosa to life on Scrubs. She was the kind of RN nobody wanted to mess with. She was respected for her knowledge, her experience, and her time at the hospital, but also for her personality. Espinosa wouldn’t let anyone off the hook easily if she knew they had messed up.
As Head Nurse, she was in charge and proved that it was possible for Latina girls to follow her path if healthcare was something of interest. She married a doctor and still, everyone respected her position and didn’t second guess her.
Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) started off being a mean cheerleader that everyone was afraid of. But as the seasons of Glee went on, it became very clear that there was more behind the mask she wore. Much like Elena Alvarez, she was afraid of being rejected by her family due to her sexuality and their Latinx background.
However, Santana Lopez proved it is possible for Latina queer girls to fall in love, have a high school sweetheart, and end up marrying the love of their life. She showed that even though life wasn’t always easy, there is always hope that things will get better.
This article was originally published on 3/29/23.