I didn’t care much for having Barbie dolls when I was little. I had her Latinx friend Teresa (I still have to find out who bought this doll for me and thank them). Maybe it’s because Teresa looked more like me, with dark hair and dark eyes. The point is that it’s imperative that little girls and boys see people who look like them, everywhere — and this includes television and film. On the small screen, among the sea of human Barbies, with blonde hair, blue eyes, no accents, and European names, I felt empowered and seen to witness the presence of a doll such as Teresa. Here are those Latinx actors and actresses whom I saw on television, while growing up in the eighties and nineties. Because representation matters.
1 Sonia Manzano on Sesame Street
One of the first shows I remember watching is the classic Sesame Street. Maria was one of the OGs of the show, and gave viewers, including myself, a Latina to see on television. Gracias!
2 Emilio Delgado on Sesame Street
Let’s not forget Emilio Delgado, who played Maria’s husband, Luis. It was great to see a happy, healthy Latinx couple on the small screen.
3 Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman
Every girl needs a superhero who looks like her, and/or has a similar background. I have always loved Wonder Woman, even more so when I learned that Lynda Carter is of blended heritage, half-Latina and half-European like me. She continues to be a Latinx hero for women everywhere.
4 Joanna Kerns on Growing Pains
I grew up watching the wholesome family sitcom, Growing Pains, during the 1980s and ‘90s. Joanna Kerns played the family matriarch, Maggie Seaver. I didn’t learn until recently that Joanna is actually Latina (some say Joanna Crussie de Varona is part Mexican, others say part Cuban).
5 Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune
Another Latinx whom I watched all the time on television (and who still graces our screens to this day!) is the elegant Vanna White. The timeless letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune is Puerto Rican, on her father’s side.
6 Thalia in a Variety of Novelas
Thalia was one of the Latinx stars in many a Latinx childhood. She starred in a trifecta of popular Maria-themed novelas in the nineties: Maria Mercedes, Marimar, and Maria la del Barrio. Personally, I watched Marimar as a 13-year-old and loved it. Thalia’s beauty and style in the telenovela served as inspiration for teens like me across the country.
7 Mario Lopez on Saved by the Bell
Saved by the Bell was a supercool, super popular show, which aired from 1989 to 1993. What was even cooler about it is that one of its stars was Mexicano Mario Lopez, who played A.C. Slater. Luckily, Lopez is still very much a part of Hollywood’s increasingly diverse ecosystem.
8 Cristina Saralegui
When I was younger, my mom watched several popular talk shows. There was the always inspiring Oprah Winfrey Show, and the more serious Phil Donahue Show. Then, there was Cristina. She was the Cubana who interviewed every major Latinx star, and who, herself, became known on a first-name basis.
9 The Cast of Culture Clash
Imagine laughing to a funny sketch comedy show, which starred Chicanos who made jokes about Latinx things, and featured huge Latinx stars. This was Culture Clash, which aired on FOX from 1993 to 1996. And they were from my hometown of San Francisco!
10 Sofia Vergara on Fuere de Serie
Before she became the highest paid actress on TV, Colombiana Sofia Vergara co-starred on a show called Fuera de Serie. On it, she got to travel the world and report on all the cool stuff she found.
11 Joe Torres on Hey Dude
Hey Dude was a cool show that aired on Nickelodeon, from 1989 to 1991. It was different from other shows for kids; it followed a bunch of teens who spent their time at a dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It also had a Latino as one of its stars — Joe Torres, who played American Indian Danny Lightfoot.
12 Tatyana Ali on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which I watched on a regular basis (and still catch episodes of), Ashley Banks was pretty, rich, opinionated, educated — and played by an Afro-Latina — Afro-Panamanian Tatyana Ali. I wish I would have known she was Latinx in the nineties, when I first watched the show!
13 Michael DeLorenzo and Luna Lauren Velez on New York Undercover
To this day, Latinxs are often portrayed on television as criminals. So when they’re on the other side of the law on the small screen, you take notice. Especially if they’re attractive, cool, and young POC. Enter Puerto Ricans Michael DeLorenzo and Luna Lauren Velez (and Malik Yoba!), who starred on New York Undercover in the nineties.
14 Jennifer Lopez on In Living Color
Before J-Lo had her breakthrough role in the movie, Selena, she was dancing her heart out as a Fly Girl on sketch comedy show, In Living Color. The Fly Girls wore the coolest clothes, had the latest dance moves, and featured several WOC — not to mention they were choreographed by Rosie Perez.