Long before the AOC phenomenon, long before the birth of neologisms like “Latinx,” and even before platforms like Netflix opened the door to an almost unstoppable diversity of narratives, the struggle for the inclusion of Latinos on the small screen was steeply uphill.
From Ricky Ricardo to Wilmer Valderrama, the history of American television has shown us that, in order to have a line in the script, Latinos often had to resort to marked stereotypes — such as congas, fruit headdresses, or exaggerated accents — thus becoming that bit of exoticism that traditional white families like so much.
That’s why when in 2009 the Modern Family sitcom was sold to viewers as a mockumentary that would demonstrate the atypical interweaving of “real” American families, the character of Sofia Vergara caused controversy among those who still claimed a place at the table for the Latino community.
Vergara played Gloria Delgado, the second wife of the Pritchett family patriarch, interpreted by the iconic Ed O’Neill; between her hair and her tight wardrobe, there were those of us who couldn’t help but draw a line between the Colombian actress and that grim television archetype once embodied by Katey Sagal in Married… With Children.
After 11 seasons and 250 episodes, the Modern Family cast finally said goodbye last Wednesday, joining the shelves of entertainment history as one of the most important comedies of recent years. To everyone’s surprise, and despite the skepticism of many, what Vergara really accomplished, for her part, was to win the hearts of viewers by becoming the highest-paid Latino actress on American television — and the world.
“In Vergara, television has found the ‘crossover’ star that it has been looking for since (Cuban actor) Desi Arnaz went off the air,” Forbes magazine wrote in 2012, when the actress began earning $15 million a year.
Today, the artist records about $43 million annually.
“Sofia Vergara changed for years the way in which the common American viewed Latinos. Although her character revolves around the stereotype of the voluptuous Latin woman, Gloria was showing that she was more than a cartoon,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the leading organization in the fight for greater participation of Hispanics in film and TV.
In response to the criticism she faced for years because of her exacerbated character, Vergara defended that “other side” of Latinidad, which so many insist on avoiding.
During an interview with Hola! USA in 2017, the actress asked: “What’s wrong with being a stereotype?”
“Gloria is inspired by my mom and my aunt. They are Latin women who grew up in Colombia, like me. They love color, prints and shoes.”
“It upsets me when Latinos complain about Gloria,” she continued, according to Us Weekly. “I am grateful for the opportunity because the gringos have let me in with this strong accent I have. Eight years ago nobody had an accent like this on television.”
As if she were guessing the future, Vergara told The EDIT in 2016: “The problem is not the networks or directors: it’s that there aren’t enough writers creating things for Latinos… Once we have more Latinos writing, that’s when things may really start to change.”
Today, while her image monetizes design lines of furniture, clothing and even coffee machines, Sofia Vergara is considered a pioneer in the path of other Latinas in the industry, such as Gina Rodriguez, Judy Perez, or Camila Mendes.