It’s a rarity, even today, to see Latinas dominating the small screen. There is so much change that needs to happen for Latinas to feel fully represented on TV. That’s why it’s important to look at our pop culture history and pay homage to those who broke boundaries, blazed trails, and made history. So that we can honor them, learn from their struggles and triumphs, and continue the cause. Let’s start by learning about five inspiring Latinas who were holding it down on 80s TV. Yes, during the shoulder-padded days of fifty years ago, there were Latinas making it possible for our creatives to be on television today.
Irene Cara Escalera, professionally known as Irene Cara is an Afro-Puerto Rican-Cuban actress and singer who made history by being the first Latina to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song. She got the little gold man for “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” part of the 1983 movie Fame. But film and music weren’t Irene’s only arenas during the ‘80s. She also appeared in several television commercials, and shows, including Roots: The Next Generation and Bustin’ Loose. She even starred in her own sitcom, Irene.
Another Latina who was holding it down in 80s TV is Saundra Santiago. The Puerto Rican and Cuban actress is best known for playing Detective Gina Calabrese on the hit TV show Miami Vice. Yes, she was playing an Italian character (a la Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner) but we’d rather have it that way than the other way around. She also went back in time and played Gina’s mother, Elena Obregon, showing she could represent through time and generations.
Before she portrayed Jo Reynolds on Melrose Place during the ‘90s and Victoria Davis on One Tree Hill in the 2000s, Guatemalan actress Daphne Zuniga was putting Alex P. Keaton in his place from the hit TV show, Family Ties. She had an extensive television (and film) career, appearing on several other notable programs in the 1990s and beyond, such as Spin City, The Outer Limits, Eve, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Nip/Tuck, and the remake of Dynasty.
Latinas today wouldn’t have the access to Hollywood we have today without trailblazers like Yvonne Wilder. The late Puerto Rican-Cuban actress, comedian, artist, and writer was a part of several major pop culture moments throughout her career, beginning in the 1960s. In 1961, she played Constance in the film West Side Story and in 1983, she was part of the groundbreaking Latinx sitcom Condo. And, among several other roles on TV, Wilder was also on The Partridge Family, 227, Gimme a Break!, and Full House, where she played lovable grandmother Irene Katsopolis.
One more Latina you should know about, who has been holding it down on TV since the 1980s, and is still going strong, is Puerto Rican Lisa Vidal. You may have seen her on more recent shows like The Baker and the Beauty, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, and Being Mary Jane, but back in the ‘80s, she was already making her mark on television and helping other Latinas to do the same. In 1980, she was on a television show about a Puerto Rican family in New York called Oye Willie. Vidal also appeared in other ‘80s TV productions, including Miami Vice, and The Cosby Show.