I’ve realized that the 80s were not kind to Latina women. Growing up I did not have many icons to look up to. However, just because they weren’t there, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that there were plenty of Latinas in Hollywood, they were just hidden. Latina women have been gracing the silver screen since the silent era of film. These women not only captivated audiences but made an everlasting impression in an industry that once excluded minorities.
Leading the pack was Myrtle Gonzales, an American silent film actress who was regarded as Hollywood’s first Latina and Hispanic movie star actress in 1911. Dolores Del Rio, a Mexican film actress, roared through the 20’s with beauty, class, and identity intact. She was dubbed as the first Mexican to succeed in Hollywood, and her career influenced other Latinas such as Rita Hayworth, Jennifer Lopez and even inspiring actress Joan Crawford. During the silver-age of film Rita Hayworth, (born Margarita Carmen Cansino) captivated audiences with her beauty and sexual charisma. As both a legendary actress and pin-up, Rita became the epitome of Latin America Beauty during the 1940’s. Rita Moreno, another icon best known for her role in “West Side Story”. Afterwards, she broke ethnic and cultural barriers by breaking free from stereotypical roles, becoming one of the first Latina performers to win an Oscar, Emmy, a Tony, and Grammy.
These icons not only captivated audiences with their beauty and poise, but broke down barriers for Latinas in popular culture for decades after. Their beauty both on and off the screen paved the Hollywood walk of fame for future wonder women, such as half-Mexican 70’s icon Linda Carter; MTV’s first Latina VJ of the 80’s Daisy Fuentes; and 90’s icons Rosie Perez, Eva Mendes, Penelope Cruz, and Jennifer Lopez. Nowadays, the Latina presence is so prominent in popular culture that it is hard not to feel the influence. Latina icons are not only perfecting their talents on screen, but off of it as well. From Selma Hayek’s production company “Ventanazul”, to Eva Longoria’s new role as a producer on ABC’s upcoming show “Devious Maids”, Latina women are taking on roles that we could not have imagined filling just 20 years ago; roles that are not just limited to film, but those that involve the entertainment industry as a whole.
Latina women have given the term icon a whole new meaning. They have not only brought their beauty into popular culture but have brought their values, passions, and work ethic with them. From icons to entrepreneurs, we have started a trend that does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Sofia Vergara is a testament that our strong nature, desire to succeed, and love for our heritage is able to cross over into the hearts and homes of the Modern Family.
With the next generation of powerful Latina ladies such as Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Victoria Justice on the rise, we can watch these strong icons influencing a whole new type of viewer, like my daughter. We now have something to look forward to, something that my generation did not have- a strong Latina role model.