Since its inception, Hollywood has been a tough place for Latinx actors. Things like an accent, a “foreign” sounding last name, or an “exotic” look can keep talented thespians from making it big or even getting their foot in the door.
That’s why many actors have Anglicized their names or had it changed for them by studios trying to make them more palatable to Hollywood’s head honchos and white audiences. By making their stage names sound more “American” (aka what white people perceive as being from the US), Latinx actors often avoid getting pigeonholed as the stereotypical criminals, janitors, maids, etc., even if the practice contributes to our erasure.
We don’t judge Latinx actors for doing this, especially in the earlier days of Old Hollywood, but we do judge an entertainment industry that made such whitening a prerequisite for success. We’re happy that more and more Latinxs are not only standing by their names but also creating the spaces for us to be truly, authentically seen on screen (and off). That said, to understand the Latinx experience in Hollywood, you have to understand the history (and present!) of Anglicized names. Let’s start by looking at five actors who use an Anglo name for a better chance at stardom.
Anita Page (1910-2008)
Anita Page, one of the biggest stars of Old Hollywood, was born Anita Eveyln Pomares. Although credited as being from El Salvador (since her father was a consul of the country), “both her paternal grandparents appear to have been born in Cuba, of Spanish origin (it is also said that she is Venezuelan). The “blonde blue-eyed Latin,” who received over 10,000 fan letters a week, and starred in films including The Broadway Melody (which won Best Picture) and Our Dancing Daughters, had her name changed to Anita Page (first Ann Page) by MGM.
Anthony Quinn (1915-2001)
Anthony Quinn is an iconic Mexican actor. He won the Best Supporting Oscar, first in 1952 for Viva Zapata!, then again in 1956 for Lust for Life. Quinn was also nominated for Best Actor for Wild Is the Wind (1958), and Zorba the Greek (1965). While Quinn was Anthony’s real last name (the actor was part Irish; his entire name was Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca), his name was Anglicized from Antonio to Anthony and, of course, the rest was dropped.
Raquel Welch (1940-present)
Brunette, curvy, and Bolivian Raquel Welch was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1960s and ‘70s. Some of her more iconic films include One Million Years B.C., Bedazzled, and Bandolero! Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada, which of course was deemed as “too ethnic” by Hollywood standards. So they had her take her husband’s last name, and then tried to change “Raquel” to “Debbie.” The icon vehemently shut that down.
Steven Bauer (1956-present)
You may recognize him as Manny Ribera in Scarface. And/or as Joe Peña on ¿Qué Pasa, USA? But Steven Bauer was born Esteban Ernesto Echevarría Samson. The Cuban actor, who played Cuban roles in this film and television show, felt the pressure to change his name, first to Rocky Echevarría then to Steven Bauer. He explained his decision in an interview with Kristina Puga: “When I was starting out as an actor, it was a very small restricted area for anyone with foreign names. Hollywood was famous for having people change their identities. When I started, Latinos were not counted…Rocky was a gimmicky name. When I became an adult, it didn’t feel real, and no one could pronounce Echevarría. Thirty years later, people can attempt it, but it’s not Garcia or Perez. It was my father’s idea to use my mom’s German side, which is Bauer. In the early days, it also eliminated the problem of ‘he’s Latino.’”
Oscar Isaac (1979-present)
Oscar Isaac’s career literally soared into the stratosphere with his role of Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and then the subsequent franchise installments. The Guatemalan-Cuban actor was also nominated for two Golden Globes: one in 2013 for Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Comedy for Inside Llewyn Davis, and again in 2015 for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for Show Me a Hero. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Oscar Isaac Hernández Estrada explained that he dropped his Cuban last name for more opportunities in Hollywood – before doing so, he was only seen by casting directors for “gangster” roles. Ironically, he was overlooked for a part because they thought he was European Jewish and they had wanted a (non-Jewish) Cuban actor.