The 20 Most Iconic Latino TV Characters of All Time!

"Lucy, I'm home!" From Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy to Wilmer Valderrama on That '70s Show, we're counting down the 20 most iconic Latino TV characters of all time!

1. TV Icons: Eva Longoria

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.

 

2. TV Icons: Freddie Prinze

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.



 

3. TV Icons: America Ferrera

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.

 

4. TV Icons: Desi Arnaz

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!”

5. TV Icons: Wilson Cruz

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.

6. TV Icons: Jimmy Smits

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.

 

7. TV Icons: Dora

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.

 

8. TV Icons: Erik Estrada

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.

 

9. TV Icons: Edward James Olmos

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.

 

10. TV Icons: Jorge Garcia

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. 

11. TV Icons: Related Links

12. 10 More Icons: Mario Lopez

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.

13. 10 More Icons: Wilmer Valderrama

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.

14. 10 More Icons: Shelley Morrison

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.

15. 10 More Icons: Benjamin Bratt

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.

16. 10 More Icons: Kirk Acevedo

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.

17. 10 More Icons: Rita Moreno

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.

18. 10 More Icons: Christian Camargo

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.

19. 10 More Icons: Lauren Velez

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.

20. 10 More Icons: Jamie-Lynn Sigler

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.

21. 10 More Icons: Judy Reyes

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.