What These Latino Entertainers Have Said About Their Roots
By USA Today
Whether you identify with the term Latino, Latinx or Latine — the community, which makes up over 62.1 million people in the U.S., is not a monolith. And neither are the many entertainers in the industry that have paved the way for future generations of Latino artists, writers, musicians, directors and actors to thrive in Hollywood. America Ferrera, Bad Bunny, Eva Longoria, Colman Domingo and more celebrities have achieved great heights all while honoring their roots and uplifting their community.
In honor of Latino Heritage Month, here’s what Latino and Afro-Latino trailblazers have said about Latinidad.
America Ferrera, born to Honduran parents, got her big break with the 2002 indie film “Real Women Have Curves.” In 2006, Ferrera landed the unforgettable role of Betty Suarez in “Ugly Betty.” Most recently, she starred in NBC’s “Superstore” and served as executive producer for Netflix’s “Gentefied.”
Ferrera has used her Latina identity on and off screen as her “superpower,” not an obstacle. “Because the truth is, I am what the world looks like. You are what the world looks like,” Ferrera said in a 2019 TED Talk. “Collectively, we are what the world actually looks like. And in order for our systems to reflect that, they don’t have to create a new reality. They just have to stop resisting the one we already live in.”
Jenna Ortega started out in Hollywood as a child actor and is best known for her role as young Jane on The CW comedy-drama “Jane the Virgin” and Netflix’s “You.” Recently, Ortega has made her foray into Hollywood with roles in horror films including “Studio 666,” “X” and “Scream.”
Now, Ortega is starring as Wednesday Addams in the Tim Burton-directed Netflix series “The Addams Family.” In August 2022, she opened up about what playing the role means to her: “Wednesday is technically a Latina character and that’s never been represented so, for me, any time that I have an opportunity to represent my community, I want that to be seen.”
If there’s anyone who wears his culture on his sleeve, it’s Bad Bunny. In August 2022, the Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar gave an electrifying performance live from the Yankee Stadium in New York and gave an empowering speech when he took home the MTV Video Music Award for artist of the year. “I always knew that I could become a huge artist without changing my culture, my slang, and my language,” Bad Bunny said in Spanish. “I am Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, from Puerto Rico to the world.”
There isn’t anything Eva Longoria can’t do. From acting, producing, directing, modeling, podcasting and starting her own tequila line — the multi-hyphenate Longoria is a Latina legend in her own right. “Being Mexican is who I am,” Longoria said in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment in 2021. “For me, it exudes in everything that I do every day from how I style my hair, to putting on my lip liner, to putting on my hoops, to what I make for breakfast, how I have my café con leche, how I drive. It seeps into every aspect of my life.”
Actor Colman Domingo gained acclaim for his Broadway performance in the musical “The Scottsboro Boys.” Most recently, he has appeared in HBO’s “Euphoria” as recovering drug addict and mentor Ali. In September 2022, he won an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor in a drama series for his “Euphoria” role.
When asked in the pressroom about the lack of representation of Afro-Latino actors in the industry, Domingo spoke about his father’s side of the family. “They’re from Belize and Guatemala and all over Central America and I feel very proud. I’m sure they’re screaming in the streets for me, they’re very proud of me being a part of this and representing not only Afro-Latinos but also representing humble people of west Philadelphia as well.”
Mexican American singer Becky G not only reps her Inglewood roots through and through, but also always finds a way to shout out her heritage any opportunity she gets.
“I’m grateful for being Latina,” Becky G told ET in 2019. “It has taught me so many things … and it makes me want to learn more about myself and my story and where I come from because, in order to know where you’re going, you gotta know where you’ve been. Being a Latina is everything. We are passionate, we are hardworking, we are loyal, we are dedicated.”
Ismaël Cruz Córdova
Ismaël Cruz Córdova isn’t here to appease. The Puerto Rican actor, who identifies as Afro-Latino, spoke out at the Emmys in September 2022 about the backlash he’s received for playing a Black elf in Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” series “The Ring of Power.”
“I took this role specifically. I’m a fan, and for a lot of reasons. One of them was that I knew this was going to happen,” Cruz Córdova told Deadline in an interview about the racist backlash he’s received. “I even got some rejections for the role but I still kept going for it because I knew there was going to be disruption. In my career, my mission has been, to occupy these spaces and put myself on the front lines. I have no problem doing that.”
Francia Raisa, born to Mexican and Honduran parents, is best known for her roles in “Bring It On: All or Nothing,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Grown-ish” and most recently has appeared in the “How I Met Your Mother” spinoff series “How I Met Your Father.”
In September 2022, Raisa was honored at the National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Awards Gala and gave a moving speech about the importance of community. “I would go to auditions and there wasn’t a lot of us… it was very lonely for a really long time and I didn’t have Latina friends for a really long time. I didn’t realize how important that common cultural ground is.”
Jennifer Lopez needs no introduction. The pop culture icon, whose career has spanned over three decades, has “never wanted to be put in a box.”
“I wanted to always be a person. Look at me like I’m a person. Don’t look at me like I’m one type of person, like I’m just a Latin girl over here and I can only do these things,” Lopez told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview in 2020. “No, I can do anything. You should let me play the president of the United States. I should be able to do that. It’s always been my goal with my career to show diversity in the different things and characters that I could play.”
Whether it’s through music, fashion, or simply dropping gems — J Balvín is all about uplifting “Mi Gente.” The Colombian reggaetonero has made it his mission to normalize opening up about mental health struggles in the Latino community.
“Like any human being, I’ve had some challenges,” he said on social media in 2020. “This time it’s anxiety and some depression. I don’t like acting or faking my happiness or that everything is perfect,” he said. “I’m like any human being. I’m fragile and vulnerable, possibly more than all of you … I’m not here to act but to be real and share what I’m feeling in the moment.”
Karol G is taking the Latin music industry by storm — and she’s not slowing down any time soon.
With 20 Latino artists billed for the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the Colombian reggaetonera left her mark. “It was a moment for me to show who we Latinos are, to introduce a culture that many people may still not know very well,” Karol G said in an interview with the Desert Sun, part of the USA TODAY Network. “I felt really proud to form part of this generation of women that are doing big things and things that are representative of where we come from.”
From ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” to HBO’s “And Just Like That,” Sara Ramírez has been representing both the Latino and LGBTQ communities in Hollywood.
Ramirez, who is gender non-binary, said they never felt “represented on television” before landing the role of Dr. Callie Torres, a bisexual character. “There was so much I didn’t know,” they said in an interview with People in 2021. “So, I’ve caught up with myself in a lot of ways.”
Danny Trejo holds 407 acting credits and counting. Since 1985, Trejo has made his mark in Hollywood despite feeling typecast when he started out.
In a 2021 interview with USA TODAY, Trejo advised young aspiring Latino filmmakers and actors to “just keep going for that brass ring.” He added: “Don’t quit. Don’t let nobody say you can’t do it,” Trejo says. “Meet people, be as friendly as you can. In every situation you walk into, try to leave better. And that’s what I do, I don’t care what it is. I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday.”
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
In 2021, Puerto Rican actress Michaela Jaé Rodriguez made history when she became the first transgender woman to be nominated for the category of best actress in a drama series for her performance in “Pose.”
After her nom last year, Rodriguez spoke to People about how her identity contains multitudes: “I’m at the intersectionality of African American, Black and Latina. So I definitely do think it’s changing the narrative. I do think it’s opening the scope a little bit more, even in the Hispanic and Latina community, because so many people only focus on just those sides of being Latina, Hispanic, and not understanding that there is a deep heritage and a deep-rootedness. So I like speaking on all the pieces of me.”
Actor and comedian Eugenio Derbez began acting in the 1980s and predominantly appeared in Mexican television shows and telenovelas. Now, he’s considered one of the few Mexican actors to have achieved international acclaim, recently appearing in the Oscar-winning film “CODA.”
“For me, as an actor and producer— after many years of struggling trying to do this crossover and only being offered roles like a drug lord, criminal, the gang member or bad guy, or, in the best-case scenario, the gardener, when we are worth more than that,” Derbez told Deadline in a 2021 interview. “I promised myself that I would make changes for us as much as I possibly can to break stereotypes as a producer and that’s what I’m doing.”
You may know the Venezuelan-Colombian actor Wilmer Valderrama as Fez from “That ’70s Show,” but ever since — he’s made big waves in Hollywood as well as done impactful work with his activism and philanthropic efforts.
In September 2022, at the National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Awards Gala, Valderrama stressed the importance of a united Latino front: “I’d like to challenge us as we move into the next phase of this evolutionary process for our culture, in our community, not only mainstream but in our leadership that when we arrive in America that we focus on the signal the globe all needs and that we finally wave one flag together as Latino brothers and sisters. It is absolutely critical to the survival of the movement and survival of our history because if we wave the same flag our history will not be deleted again.”
Afro-Latina actress Gina Torres didn’t feel like there was a place for her in the industry when she started. In an interview with Suggest, published September 2022, the “Law & Order” and “Bones” actress said “there was no place for me as a Latina, and then as a Black woman.”
“I didn’t identify as a Black woman, because for me it was cultural. Because, of course, I present Black, I am a Black woman. I am also Cuban,” she continued. “When you’re here in the United States and they ask you to be in a box, and you don’t fit into the box … culturally, it was different. It was not one that I identified with. But to work, to survive, it was something that I had to learn.”
When Jharrel Jerome became both the first Afro-Latino and first Dominican actor to win an acting Emmy in 2019 for best lead actor in a limited series for his performance as Korey Wise in Netflix’s “When They See Us,” he made sure to honor that milestone. “I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos,” Jerome said after the win, according to ET. “It’s about time we’re here.”
Actor Oscar Isaac, who is Guatemalan and Cuban, doesn’t want to be thought of as a “great Latino actor” first. He wants to embody greatness, period.
“I’m most definitely Latino. That’s who I am,” the “Moon Knight” actor told The Daily Beast in 2018. “But at the same time, for an actor it’s like, I want to be hired not because of what I can represent, but because of what I can create, how I can transform, and the power of what I create.”
Actress, writer and comedian Julissa Calderon wants Afro-Latinos to be front and center on screen.
Speaking to People in 2020, the Dominican star spoke about growing up with little Afro-Latina representation on TV. “I definitely don’t feel like I saw myself,” Calderon said. “I didn’t see a brown girl with coarse, curly hair and big lips. I don’t feel like I could connect with any particular person because no one looked like me.” Now, Calderon is changing that through her roles in “With Love” on Amazon Prime Video and “Gentefied” on Netflix. She added: “I’m going to work my ass off until my name is really a household name — not just within the Latinx community but within all communities. Everyone is going to know my name.”
At the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, Alfonso Cuarón made history by taking home the Oscar for best foreign language film for his black-and-white drama “Roma.” Backstage during a press conference, the director dedicated his award to Mexico.
“This film doesn’t exist if it’s not for Mexico. I put it bluntly, I could not be here if it was not because of Mexico,” Cuarón said, per Remezcla.
Kate Del Castillo
From Mexican telenovelas to Hollywood, Kate Del Castillo is claiming her rightful place in the industry.
In 2011, she earned worldwide recognition for playing Teresa Mendoza, a young woman who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in Spain, in Telemundo’s “La Reina del Sur.” In 2017, she starred in the Netflix political drama series “Ingobernable” and made her Hollywood debut playing the female lead role in the 2007 drama film “Under the Same Moon.”
Speaking to E! News in 2021, Castillo spoke about the importance of writing strong female leads. “We need to recognize that women are as strong and capable as any male hero. If a female character is written as strong and badass — that doesn’t necessarily require her to also be sexy, hot, good looking, and it doesn’t mean she needs to be scantily dressed.”
Dominican actress Leslie Grace spoke to Harpers Bazaar in 2021 about the process of bringing her “In the Heights” character to life and the importance of Afro-Latina representation.
“We don’t get to see this type of representation on-screen all the time,” Grace said in an interview. “It’s going to make a huge difference for people that haven’t come across a neighborhood like Washington Heights. And for those that do live in a neighborhood like Washington Heights, for them to see themselves on a big screen in that way captured by us, it’s just going to be such a beautiful and powerful moment. I feel so blessed to have experienced it firsthand.”
Guillermo del Toro
Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, the mastermind behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Shape of Water,” shared his Mexican pride in 2019 when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I’m a Mexican and I am an immigrant. As a Mexican, receiving this star is a gesture and no gesture right now can be banal or simple” the director, who originally hails from Guadalajara, Mexico, said at the time. “This is very important this is happening right now because I can tell to all of you, all immigrants from every nation, that you should believe in the possibilities and not the obstacles.”
“Orange Is the New Black” actress Dascha Polanco penned an essay about her Latinidad for PopSugar in 2017.
“I love the fact that as an Afro-Latina, I am the representation of a blend of our history of slaves from Africa stopping in countries like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Because of this rich history, my roots are endless,” she wrote. “My background represents our fusion as Latinos. I embrace every aspect of my European, African, and Taíno-ness because all of these elements influence the music, food, art, fashion, and beauty I grew up with and the upbringing I received.”
Melissa Barrera, star of “In The Heights” and “Vida,” is all about playing multifaceted characters onscreen.
“I’m grateful to have played such rich and complex women, since flawed women are rarely depicted on screen, especially Latinas, and my whole point has been to subvert categorization,” Barrera told NBC News in a June 2022 interview. “This has caused me to lose a lot of opportunities and has slowed my career down a little bit because I’ve said no to many things because I actively haven’t wanted to be pigeonholed, and it’s very easy for this industry to do that.”
In 2020, following the release of her album “Rare,” the Texas native graced the cover of Dazed and took up the chance to connect with her Latino audience. “[I represent Latinos] one thousand [percent]. I’m always very vocal about my background,” she said.
“One Day at a Time” actress Justina Machado spoke with People Chica about Latino representation in Hollywood in 2018 and called for folks to “stop thinking that diversity is just black and white. There is a whole lot in between.”
The Chicago native, born to Puerto Rican parents, added: “I’m so grateful that I get to do something important with my art and open up doors and change Latino narratives — let people see themselves up there [on screen], let them identify with themselves up there and know that they can make it and do it also.”
Rosario Dawson has not only changed the game in Hollywood but has also extended her influence to politics, philanthropy and wellness.
Speaking to Yahoo Life in 2021 spoke about how her Latina roots have shaped her. “It’s a double-edged sword, or two-sided coin,” she said, elaborating on how difficult it was growing up in a Latino household upholding toxic masculinity. “So I love that as we have our own Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re having conversations around mental health that … previous generations never had access to,” she added.
Image: Phil McCarten, Invision/AP