Love it or hate it, we live in a TV-obsessed world. And despite the onslaught of reality shows, the TV universe is still a bit more whitewashed than our actual reality.
Slowly but surely diversity in all its forms (gender roles, sexual identity, and ethnicity) is blossoming on the small screen.
Sadly, the evolution of Latinas on TV is a painfully gradual process. But season by season, Latina characters are stepping out of the stereotypical maid uniform and blousy, hot-blooded temptress stilettos into multi-dimensional, complex characters that are true reflections of the rich cultural heritage and mundane everyday humanity that defines the modern, real world Latina.
Each of these TV shows, the writers who created the roles, and the amazing actresses who brought the characters to life are paving the way for a more inclusive, richly layered representation of the Latino experience throughout the entertainment industry. And they say life imitates art…
1. Rita Moreno • Sister Peter Marie Reimondo • Oz (1997-2003)
The amazing Rita Moreno infuses Sister Peter Marie Reimondo’s tough-as-nails prison drug counselor with a core of deep empathy. She holds her own in uncomfortably close quarters with the convicts of Oz—all the while, tracking her husband’s killer.
2. Shelley Morrison • Rosario Salazar • Will & Grace (1998-2006)
Will & Grace made great television strides for the LGBT community and slightly smaller steps for Latinas. Shelley Morrison—as wealthy Karen’s maid Rosario—not only traded witty barbs with her employer, she knew her worth and asserted herself with sardonic charm.
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3. Judy Reyes • Nurse Carla Espinosa • Scrubs (2001-2010)
We’ve all had a Nurse Carla Espinosa in our lives. She’s that busybody who constantly dispenses unwanted advice, flies off the handle at the drop of a hat, and in the end is a truly loyal girlfriend. And you’ve got to love a character who inspires the cast of Scrubs to break into a musical number about the cultural differences between Latinas. Carla’s Dominican not Puerto Rican!
4. Constance Marie • Angie Lopez • George Lopez (2002-2007)
Angie Lopez is memorable for her normalcy. She was a third generation Cuban-American middle-class working mom and the first Latina mom starring in a major network sit-com.
5. Eva Longoria • Gabrielle Solis • Desperate Housewives (2004-2012)
Ex-model, gold digger, cheating wife, and nighttime soap diva extraordinaire, Wisteria Lane wouldn’t have been the same without Gabrielle Solis. She’s right up there with Alexis Carrington and Eva Longoria played her to perfection.
6. Sara Ramirez • Dr. Callie Torres • Grey’s Anatomy (2005-)
One of TV’s most beloved characters, bisexual, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Callie Torres, has managed to educate and entertain viewers as she’s grown over the past six years on Grey’s Anatomy. She’s smart, three-dimensional, multi-talented, and anything but stereotypical.
7. America Ferrera • Betty Suarez • Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
Betty Suarez was a groundbreaking television character in so many ways. She was an ‘ugly’ duckling making it in the fashion industry, she was the star of the show and a Latina. And maybe most groundbreaking of all, while she was undeniably a part of Latin culture, her Latinidad wasn’t a major plot point—it was just another aspect of who she was—so simple but so important.
8. Lauren Vélez • Lt. Maria LaGuerta • Dexter (2006-)
Lt. Maria LaGuerta is a complex, sometimes ruthless, often conniving and self-serving anti-hero. But the gorgeous Lauren Vélez, manages to give her heart. We love to hate her on Dexter and we hate to love her (but we sometimes do!). It’s exciting to see such a meaty role for a Latina on TV.
9. Zoila Chavez • Flipping Out (2007-)
Yes, Zoila Chavez is a maid but she’s far from stereotypical. Her sass and personality have made her the surprise hit of this reality show—primarily about designer Jeff Lewis’ dysfunctional family of employees and clients. And although Jeff enjoys tormenting everyone around him, including Zoila, the close bond he shares with her is evident. On a recent episode the two even went to couple’s counseling to work through their issues.
10. Sofía Vergara • Gloria Delgado-Pritchett • Modern Family (2009-)
Good or bad, Modern Family’s Gloria definitely makes an impression. While critics feel she’s too much the stereotypical brassy, loud, Latina; fans think Sofia Vergara is a refreshing portrayal of a vivacious, funny, sexy Latin woman. Either way, Modern Family and Sofia Vergara are a part of TV Sit-Com history.