The 25 Greatest Latino TV Role Models Ever!

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it came to Latino TV role models. Luckily, TV’s gotten better at casting more diverse actors, but we still have a long way to go. Here, we rounded up TV characters we’re inspired by and would actually let our children watch. Check them out and tell us who your onscreen idol is.

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Mario Lopez, Saved by the Bell: Back in the 80s/early 90s, everyone was crushing on dimpled cutie A.C. Slater, the jock of the tight-knit group of friends this series centered around. Slater was a wrestler, quarterback, and basketball player who passed up a wrestling scholarship to the University of Iowa to attend Cal U with best buds Zack, Screech, and Kelly. Slater’s ethnicity is addressed in an episode from the show’s sequel The College Years, revealing his father changed his last name from Sanchez to Slater so he could get into the military.


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Alexis Bledel, Gilmore Girls: Rory Gilmore is often the first name that appears in a “TV role models” search. Played by Argentine actress Alexis Bledel, Rory came from humble beginnings (living in the same inn her mother worked as a maid before moving into a house) and excelled in school, eventually graduating as valedictorian from a prestigious prep school and attending Yale University. In the series 2007 finale, Rory is offered a dream job covering Barack Obama's presidential campaign as a magazine reporter.


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Selena Gomez, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Mexican American starlet made a name for herself playing Alex Russo, a smart and kind wizard whose powers spark a whole lot of imagination amongst its tween viewers.


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Tatyana Ali, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: The Panamanian actress may have played goody-two-shoes Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but in real life


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America Ferrera, Ugly Betty: We’ve all felt like awkward overachiever Betty Suarez at one point in our lives. After landing her dream job at Mode, a high-fashion magazine, the hardworking Latina from the other side of the tracks finds it hard to fit in. In the end, she taught us to stay true to ourselves and always do the right thing. 


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Marc Indelicato, Ugly Betty: Playing Betty Suarez’s fashionable and sassy nephew, Justin, on Ugly Betty gave us a fresh spin on the gay teenage experience. Not coming out until season 4, Marc Indelicato’s character was believable and real. 

 


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Wilson Cruz, My So-Called Life: This mid-90s teen drama followed the trials and tribulations of 15 year-old high school students Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and her eyeliner-wearing BFF Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Rickie was first introduced as "bi," but soon came out as gay and for the first time TV addressed important issues like bullying.


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Victoria Justice, Victorious: When aspiring singer Tori Vega (Victoria Justice) is accepted into Hollywood Arts High School, she has to prove she has the voice and the moves to make it in the real world. The series, which was nominated for four Emmys, taught us just how cutthroat arts schools can be.


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Bella Thorne, Shake It Up: This hit Disney show follows dancer CeCe Jones (Bella Thorne), who overcomes stage fright when she’s cast in a local TV show called Shake It Up Chicago. CeCe’s not the best student, but when it’s revealed she has dyslexia, we realize her improvements in school are inspiring.


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Naya Rivera, Glee: Any true Gleek knows no one messes with Santana! The sassy former cheerleader and proud lesbian, played perfectly by Naya Rivera, shows us the importance of chasing your dreams when she moves to NYC to pursue a singing career.  


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Sara Ramirez, Grey's Anatomy: What better character to represent the total human experience than a bisexual orthopedic surgeon? Sara Ramirez has been nominated for several awards, including an Image and ALMA, for her portrayal of the sexually open and fierce Dr. Callie Torres.  

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JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Reba: Playing teenage mother Cheyenne on the CW series starring Reba Mc Entire, Swisher steps outside of herself to address a drinking problem and complications of marrying young. She eventually decides to become a counselor for those dealing with addiction.

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Lauren Velez, Dexter: The lieutenant-turned-captain that is Lauren Valez’s character María LaGuerta on Showtime’s Dexter struggled to get to her position in the Miami Metro Homicide Department. Having fled Cuba solo, she’s eventually killed off when trying to do the right thing. 

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Michael Steger, 90210:  Ecuadorian actor Michael Steger stars as Navid Shirazi, West Beverly Hills High’s resident go-getter who runs the school’s newscast and owns his own business, on the CW series. A lot to live up to, but one can try.

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Francia Raisa, The Secret Life of the American Teenager: It’s no surprise Grant High's bad girl, Adrian (Francia Raisa), is rebellious. Her flight attendant mom, Cindy, was hardly ever home so she could virtually do whatever she wanted. Now that her folks finally got married, her dad’s providing the guidance she needs and teaching us the value of parents.

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Adrienne Bailon, The Cheetah Girls: Playing girl group member Chanel “Chuchie” Simmons on the Disney Channel musical The Cheetah Girls proves just how hard the road to fame can be.

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Christina Aguilera, The Mickey Mouse Club: Nicknamed the “Diva” on the classic American variety show, it wasn’t long before Aguilera would rise to fame alongside Mickey Mouse costars Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling and Keri Russell after releasing her first single "All I Wanna Do” the same year the show was cancelled.

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Sonia Manzano, Sesame Street: In 1974, a teenager named Maria moved into an apartment above Gordon and Susan's on Sesame Street. It was nice to see a familiar face on TV when you’re young.

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Emilio Delgado, Sesame Street: You know him as “Luis” on Sesame Street, the first human to ever be cast on the PBS classic. The Mexican American actor has successfully played the role since 1971, continuing to portray a positive Latino on television.

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George Lopez, George Lopez: It was a breath of fresh air to see an all-Latino cast play a Latino family on TV when comedian George Lopez got a show named after him. The series revolved around Lopez’s quirky yet real family and his own dysfunctional childhood, proving no one’s perfect.

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Cote de Pablo, NCIS: Not only does Cote de Pablo represent a minority of Chilean actors on screen, but her role as Office Ziva David on NCIS is the only fulltime Israeli character on an American mainstream TV show. Her depiction of the NCIS agent made de Pablo the second most popular actress on U.S. primetime television.

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María Canals Barrera, Wizards of Waverly Place: Playing mom to Selena Gomez’s character on Wizards means running sandwich shop Waverly Sub Station with her husband and teaching her three children the importance of responsibility (they all help out). She’s the typical no-nonsense mom who’s always trying to fit in with her kids while failing miserably.  

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Alexa Vega, Ruby and the Rockets: As quiet and polite Ruby Gallagher on the ABC Family comedy series Ruby and the Rockets, Vega plays a girl trying to deal with her unorthodox family. Fed up with her absent grandparents who took care of her after her mother past away, she goes to live with her dad, who won’t give up his rock star glory days.

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24 Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation: Never before has a Latina played a quick-witted character of this caliber on TV. Made popular for her deadpan-style of comedy, Plaza’s role as apathetic Parks and Recreation employee April Ludgate was written specifically for her after the casting director called the show’s creator and said, "I just met the weirdest girl I’ve ever met in my life. You have to meet her and put her on your show." Talk about first impressions!

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Pedro Zamora, The Real World: San Francisco: Not only was AIDS activist Pedro Zamora cast on one of America’s first reality TV shows, but his real-life persona on The Real World was the first time mainstream media embraced an openly gay man with AIDS. After his death on November 11, 1994 (just hours after the final episode of his season aired), Zamora was lauded by then-President Bill Clinton for his fight.