We aren't just ruling demographic numbers! Latinos have been a staple of U.S. pop culture for decades. Here are the 30 most iconic Latino in television over the past 60 years!
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Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives
In the hands of a lesser actress, the oversexed Gabrielle could have been a throwaway, stereotypical character. Instead, Longoria, thanks to great comic timing and physical acting, managed to make her both outrageous and relatable, making Gabrielle a fan favorite and Longoria the show’s breakout star.
Freddie Prinze as Chico Rodriguez on Chico and the Man
Hiring a Puerto Rican-Hungarian from New York to portray a Chicano from East L.A. may have seemed like a stretch, but Prinze is perfect as the sweet (and sexy!) kid who wins over a crabby old white guy who won’t adapt to the changing neighborhood. Prinze came to the show a rising comedian whose sharp stand-up skills and charisma had made him a late-night show staple, but it was his performance on Chico and the Man that made him a star.
America Ferrera as Betty Suarez on Ugly Betty
The nation fell in love with Ferrera’s portrayal of a seriously fashion-challenged chica with a heart of gold. Why? Because Betty was a refreshing character, she had integrity and didn’t rely on smirks, cleavage or put-downs to gain popularity. America captured this perfectly, conveying Betty’s’ strength from underneath the furry eyebrows, braces and horrible ponchos and in the end, giving us a bona fide modern classic.
Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy
Literally the daddy of all iconic TV portrayals by a Latino, Arnaz’s bandleader married to a crazy Americana was the first leading boob-tube role for one of us. Arnaz may have been a musician and pioneering TV producer in real life, but he’s most remembered as the exasperated Ricky and his catchphrase, said in his trademark heavy accent, “Luuuuucy, I’m home!”
Wilson Cruz as Rickie Vasquez in My So-Called Life
Cruz came to Hollywood refusing to hide his homosexuality — something still considered career suicide by many — and his honesty paid off. In this cult fave, he endows Rickie, a gay teen who has been physically abused and who, like Cruz himself, was kicked out of his home for his sexual orientation, with undeniable humanity and compassion.
Jimmy Smits as Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law
Jimmy Smits has rocked many an amazing role on TV: As Bobby Simone in NYPD Blue, Matt Santos on The West Wing and Miguel Prado on Dexter come to mind (we’re still shocked he hasn’t won an Emmy), but this one is closest to our hearts. That’s because with Hollywood often portraying Latinos as criminals, service workers or smarmy Latin lover types, the arrival of Smits as a polished lawyer with a strong sense of social justice rebooted the way the industry looked at our actors. All that, and he was the hottest guy on the show.
Dora the Explorer on Dora the Explorer
Is it weird that one of our most positive portrayals onscreen is by an animated character? Who cares? All that matters is that a whole generation of kids has grown up with an intrepid, brown, bilingual girl as a role model.
Erik Estrada as Ponch on CHiPs
Two words: man meat. Estrada was hot and great hair and a great smile and that is why he was on this vapid but iconic show about hot cops on motorcycles. Yes, CHiPs was cheesetastic and so was Estrada’s performance (hey, they can’t all be Smits or Olmos), but sometimes that’s all you want in a show. Tons of girls had his poster on their walls and that was enough to make him an enduring sex symbol.
Edward James Olmos as William Adama on Battlestar Galactica
Yes, we loved him as the tipo serio Lt. Martin Castillo on the iconic show Miami Vice, for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but on Battlestar Galactica, Oscar-nominated Olmos did what no other onscreen Latino had done before: Command a fleet of spaceships protecting humanity from evil aliens in the future! More than a sci-fi show, Galactica was a mix of political and social drama and adventure, and it took someone with Olmos’ acting gravitas to pull it together.
Jorge Garcia as Hurley on Lost
Hurley was not hot, he was not suave. He did not look like a lot of people’s idea of a Latino: He was a light-skinned, freckled, outsize comic-book-reading nerd with hippie hair and sideburns—and he utterly charmed audiences with his laid-back California vibe, endlessly quotable lines and general decency. On Lost, Hurley often spoke out loud what we were thinking while watching this confounding, groundbreaking show at home: mainly, “WTF just happened?” No wonder Garcia became the fan favorite and the only one on the show who has individually permeated pop culture: There are Hurley dolls and even a Weezer album cover featuring his image.
Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater on Saved by the Bell
Mario has worn many hats in Hollywood: Sexy TV show host, sexy dance contestant, sexy beauty pageant host. No surprise that the role that started it all was as…a sexy student. In Saved by the Bell, the dimpled cutie was the sought after ladies’ man with washboard abs, who took off his shirt at any provocation. A career was born.
Wilmer Valderrama as Fez on That 70s Show
Dark, handsome, with an accent. That combination can come across as corny or smarmy, but Wilmer’s exchange student Fez was by turns sweet, horny and gullible, helping him steal every scene he was in and become a sex symbol for a new generation.
Shelley Morrison as Rosario on Will and Grace
Inez Consuelo Yolanda Salazar McFarland was one of the most memorable maids on TV ever. Far from being a meek sheet changer, she had a checkered past and used her merciless evil wit to feed her love-hate relationship with her tipsy rich boss Karen.
Benjamin Bratt as Rey Curtis in Law and Order
As the yang to partner Lenny’s wisecracking ying, Rey rarely cracked a smile during Bratt’s four seasons on the seminal show and he didn’t need to: His sexy intensity earned him an Emmy nomination in 1999.
Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez on Oz
One of the most underrated and underused Latino actors, Kirk got his first shot at substantial screen time in the prison TV drama to end all prison TV dramas. Episode after episode, he gave an astonishing performance as third-generation criminal and mercurial gang banger Miguel Alvarez. Not sure how they survived it, but both Acevedo and his character made it through six brutal seasons, Miguel being one of the few characters who did so.
Rita Moreno as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo on Oz
Having won every major prize in the entertainment industry (Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy), Rita doesn’t need to prove a thing. That may be what liberates her enough to play amazing characters in the latter stage of her career with both focus and ease. As the chief drug counselor and shrink at the ward, she developed sometimes uncomfortably close relationships with the inmates with a mix of doggedness and compassion –while at the same time that she’s tracking down her husband’s killer. Badass.
Christian Camargo as the Ice Truck Killer/Brian Moser on Dexter
The creepiest sociopath since Hannibal Lecter, period. Camargo beautifully handled a very hard balancing act, playing a merciless, ice-blooded killer pretending to be the perfect, loving boyfriend to Dexter’s adoptive sister while secretly longing for a connection with his long-lost brother Dexter. Camargo was on the show only one season, but his performance was unforgettable.
Lauren Velez as Lt. Laguerta on Dexter
Another refreshingly three-dimensional, fully fleshed out Latina character on TV. Acting vet Velez gets to be a bitch boss, loyal friend, vulnerable wife and consummate professional—all depending on the episode you’re watching.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow Soprano on The Sopranos
The iconic show gave us an iconic girl-next-door in Meadow. We saw her grow from a teen resentful of her dad’s mafia empire to an increasingly confident young woman who tries to come to terms with her family’s choices and ends up choosing a different path for herself.
Judy Reyes as Carla Espinoza on Scrubs
Sassiness is not an unexpected trait in Latina TV characters but sassiness NOT combined with big cleavage and short skirts is. As Nurse Carla, Reyes took care of business at work and home and suffered no fools—and created one of the most self-possessed (and funniest!) Latina characters ever. Best of all? She lives on in syndication.
George Lopez as himself on George Lopez
The stand-up comedian quickly became our favorite dad on the former ABC sitcom. Known for making lemonade from lemons, George was hard working, witty, and a fun loving family man. Not to mention, funny as hell.
Sofia Vergara as Gloria Pritchett on Modern Family
The Colombian actress landed the role of a lifetime on the hit ABC comedy. The 40-year-old star was considered the highest paid actress on television in 2012, with a reported estimated earnings of $19 million. Forget the haters because she’s laughing her way to the bank!
Alexis Bledel as Rory on The Gilmore Girls
From high school to Yale, we loved watching Rory’s journey of finding herself in the syndicated comedy-drama. In the last season, she moves out of Stars Hollow and prepares to enter the real world. If only a spin-off could be in the works!
Selena Gomez as Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place
Magic never looked so good! Gomez was the first Latina to headline her own sitcom on the Disney Channel, which averaged nearly 10 million viewers per live premiere. In 2009, Wizards also won "Outstanding Children's Program" at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards. Now that’s iconic!
Ana Ortiz as Hilda Suarez on Ugly Betty
The loveable older sister seemed like a part of our own family. Ortiz’s chemistry with America Ferrera was spot on and we can’t forget her fabulous fashion choices!
Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez on Glee
Honestly, who isn’t a gleek? Rivera was born for the role of the famous sassy and cold-hearted cheerleader. We also love that her character advocates for the LGBT community and her singing skills are just flawless. Her duet with Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan are just some of her knockout moments on the show.
Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro on Law & Order: SVU
Let’s face it, detective work never looked so sexy! Pino holds his own in a cast of veterans including Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer, and Ice-T.
Oscar Nuñez as Oscar Martinez on The Office
Playing an openly gay Latino man on primetime quickly made Oscar one of the most iconic characters on television. His know-it-all personality was an instant hit on the comedy show.
Raquel Welch as Aunt Dora in American Family
The beautiful actress may have gotten her fame from movies like, Bedazzled, but she was also the queen of variety shows in the 1970’s and later when on to star on several television shows including, American Family, the first drama series with a robust Latino cast.
Daisy Fuentes as a VJ on MTV and Host of House of Style
She may be a fashion mogul now, but the Cuban star got her start by making history as the first Latina VJ on the music network. She sure paved the way!