The 10 Most Iconic Latino TV Characters of All Time

Cheech Marin and Ana Ortiz have paired up for a new Fox family comedy pilot about a frazzled couple (Ugly Betty’s Ortiz and newcomer Cliff Chamberlain), their three kids and the wife’s pill-popping dad (Marin).

Based on a succesful British comedy, the show, titled Outnumbered is set to debut in the fall. We’ll be watching, hoping Ortiz and Marin’s deep comedy and TV skills can turn this sitcom into a comedy classic.

It got us thinking about Latinos in iconic performances on TV. Here are our top choices. Be sure to let us know if you agree or if you think we forgot anyone in the comments below:

1. TV Icons: Eva Longoria

Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives

In the hands of a lesser actress, the oversexed Gabrielle could have been a throwaway, stereotypical character. Instead, Longoria, thanks to great comic timing and physical acting, managed to make her both outrageous and relatable, making Gabrielle a fan favorite and Longoria the show’s breakout star.


2. TV Icons: Freddie Prinze

Freddie Prinze as Chico Rodriguez on Chico and the Man

Hiring a Puerto Rican-Hungarian from New York to portray a Chicano from East L.A. may have seemed like a stretch, but Prinze is perfect as the sweet (and sexy!) kid who wins over a crabby old white guy who won’t adapt to the changing neighborhood. Prinze came to the show a rising comedian whose sharp stand-up skills and charisma had made him a late-night show staple, but it was his performance on Chico and the Man that made him a star.


3. TV Icons: America Ferrera

America Ferrera as Betty Suarez on Ugly Betty

The nation fell in love with Ferrera’s portrayal of a seriously fashion-challenged chica with a heart of gold. Why? Because Betty was a refreshing character, she had integrity and didn’t rely on smirks, cleavage or put-downs to gain popularity. America captured this perfectly, conveying Betty’s’ strength from underneath the furry eyebrows, braces and horrible ponchos and in the end, giving us a bona fide modern classic.


4. TV Icons: Desi Arnaz

Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy

Literally the daddy of all iconic TV portrayals by a Latino, Arnaz’s bandleader married to a crazy Americana was the first leading boob-tube role for one of us. Arnaz may have been a musician and pioneering TV producer in real life, but he’s most remembered as the exasperated Ricky and his catchphrase, said in his trademark heavy accent, “Luuuuucy, I’m home!”

5. TV Icons: Wilson Cruz

Wilson Cruz as Rickie Vasquez in My So-Called Life

Cruz came to Hollywood refusing to hide his homosexuality — something still considered career suicide by many — and his honesty paid off. In this cult fave, he endows Rickie, a gay teen who has been physically abused and who, like Cruz himself, was kicked out of his home for his sexual orientation, with undeniable humanity and compassion.

6. TV Icons: Jimmy Smits

Jimmy Smits as Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law

Jimmy Smits has rocked many an amazing role on TV: As Bobby Simone in NYPD Blue, Matt Santos on The West Wing and Miguel Prado on Dexter come to mind (we’re still shocked he hasn’t won an Emmy), but this one is closest to our hearts. That’s because with Hollywood often portraying Latinos as criminals, service workers or smarmy Latin lover types, the arrival of Smits as a polished lawyer with a strong sense of social justice rebooted the way the industry looked at our actors. All that, and he was the hottest guy on the show.


7. TV Icons: Dora

Dora the Explorer on Dora the Explorer

Is it weird that one of our most positive portrayals onscreen is by an animated character? Who cares? All that matters is that a whole generation of kids has grown up with an intrepid, brown, bilingual girl as a role model.


8. TV Icons: Erik Estrada

Erik Estrada as Ponch on CHiPs

Two words: man meat.  Estrada was hot and great hair and a great smile and that is why he was on this vapid but iconic show about hot cops on motorcycles. Yes, CHiPs was cheesetastic and so was Estrada’s performance  (hey, they can’t all be Smits or Olmos), but sometimes that’s all you want in a show. Tons of girls had his poster on their walls and that was enough to make him an enduring sex symbol.


9. TV Icons: Edward James Olmos

Edward James Olmos as William Adama on Battlestar Galactica

Yes, we loved him as the tipo serio Lt. Martin Castillo on the iconic show Miami Vice, for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but on Battlestar Galactica, Oscar-nominated Olmos did what no other onscreen Latino had done before: Command a fleet of spaceships protecting humanity from evil aliens in the future! More than a sci-fi show, Galactica was a mix of political and social drama and adventure, and it took someone with Olmos’ acting gravitas to pull it together.


10. TV Icons: Jorge Garcia

Jorge Garcia as Hurley on Lost

Hurley was not hot, he was not suave. He did not look like a lot of people’s idea of a Latino: He was a light-skinned, freckled, outsize comic-book-reading nerd with hippie hair and sideburns—and he utterly charmed audiences with his laid-back California vibe, endlessly quotable lines and general decency. On Lost, Hurley often spoke out loud what we were thinking while watching this confounding, groundbreaking show at home: mainly, “WTF just happened?” No wonder Garcia became the fan favorite and the only one on the show who has individually permeated pop culture: There are Hurley dolls and even a Weezer album cover featuring his image. 

11. TV Icons: Related Links