Latinas Who Graced Our TV Screens in the 90s

Latinas 90s BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina.

Saudade. That’s the type of deep nostalgia that most of us feel when thinking about the 90s. Most Millennials think of that era as The Golden Age, and it’s not unwarranted. Nirvana, Seinfeld, Nintendo 64, Titanic, Tupac Shakur, Tamagotchi, Star Trek, FUBU, Harry Potter, and the World Wide Web shaped popular culture today.

It is no surprise, then, that hashtags like #90snostalgia have over 159 million views on Tik Tok. But why were the 90s so great? Why do they linger, like a tattoo kiss, after thirty years? And most importantly yet, why did we love those years so much?

The era of spreading capitalism allowed for political, economic, and social progress. Still, it unlocked the latent multiculturalism that so frantically called for proper representation in the media and entertainment industry. 

Debra Merskin, Ph.D. and specialist in media culture, explains that how someone is represented in media and popular culture impacts self-image as well as their perception by others. Up until the 1990s, mainstream media content was depicted on a relatively limited understanding of individuals who do not fit the dominant white American society, leaving limited spaces for other ethnicities to be featured on screen. 

This is precisely why, for many Millennials Latinas, the 90s were so impactful. People who looked like us were the main characters. TV shows of the 90s gave foot to some of the most iconic women of our time. These eight ladies had the looks, the charm, the talent to have the entire country wooing over them. 

Ana María Orozco

This Colombian actress gave life to Betty La Fea. She honored our TV screens with a quintessential character remade over a dozen times in various countries, including India’s own 2003 remake Jassi Jassi Koi Nahin. You can read BELatina’s dissection of the telenovelas plotline, including Betty la Fea, here

Cristina Saralegui 

As a Cuban-born, Saralegui is an iconic 90s journalist, television personality, actress, and talk show host of El show de Cristina. She gave Latin celebrities, artists, and personalities the platform to launch into the American sphere. Saralegui graced our screen with interviews with stars such as Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Thalia, and many more.

Mayteana Morales

mayteana morales
Photo courtesy of IMDb.

American actress Mayteana Morales took over our screens with her role of Gabriella “Gaby” Fernandez in 1992’s American children’s mystery television series Ghostwriter for PBS. In a 2016 interview, supervising producer Miranda Barry stated that the diverse writers “wanted to make sure that we had writers who could write authentically, the voices of African-American kids and Latino kids.”

Luna Lauren Velez

Born in New York from Puerto Rican parents, Velez starred in Fox’s American police drama “New York Undercover,” which aired from 1994 to 1999. With her anticipated participation in 2023’s “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” Velez continues to open doors for new Latina actresses in the U.S.

Salma Hayek

Hollywood movie star from Veracruz, Mexico, had her beginnings in Mexican telenovela, Teresa, before moving to Los Angeles and forging her acting career. Hayek’s impeccable work on Teresa might have given her the recognition she so very much deserved, but it did not spare her from the ruthless industry she found in America. In a 2017 BET interview, she shared the struggles of being a Latina actress in Hollywood, stating that “They would laugh at you. They were laughing at me for wanting to act here because I was a soap star in Mexico”. And as we recover from Hayek’s 2021 Ajak superhero status, we can’t help but ask, “who is laughing now, huh?”. 

Stacey Dash

As if! 1995’s Clueless shaped a generation of young Americans, with iconic fashion, lingo, and absolutely supreme phrases, but it was Afro-Latina Stacey Dash who brought to life Miss Dionne — Dee — Marie Davenport, the one who has held on to her title as one of our Favorite Afro-Latine Celebs.

Thalia

Mexican singer, actress, and superstar became an international icon of the epoch. With her trilogy of María telenovelas, María Mercedes, Marimar, and María la del barrio, Thalia positioned herself as one of the most iconic Latinas. Her TV and fashion influence opened the floodgates of her musical career, establishing her as the Queen of Latin Pop still today. 

Tatyana Ali

Born a Dougla to an Indo-Trinidadian father and an Afro-Panamanian mother, this absolute darling made us fall in love with Ashley Banks, one of the most iconic characters of the era. Brazilian of Afro-Peruvian descent, filmmaker and activist Gabriela Watson Aurazo explains the impact of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on her growing up in São Paulo as one of the few Afro Latinas in her school. Ali’s portrayal of Banks goes beyond the mere good looks of her character, but it represents a whole generation of dark-skinned girlies who finally had the spotlight in TV.

As established, representation in media matters. We have broken many molds since these shows first appeared on our screens but, echoing Hayek’s words, even though there’s a lot of us, it’s still “not enough,” and we ought to work towards further representation in all scopes.