Television is as American as apple pie. But it doesn’t ever seem to reflect what America really is – a nation of different races, ethnicities, and narratives. There is a serious inclusivity and diversity problem in Hollywood, both on the large and small screens, that is only recently being addressed and even then at a snail’s pace. Most, if not all, of the change, is being done by BIPOC directors, producers, and actors themselves, after decade after decade of not seeing themselves reflected on the TV screen.
And when Latinxs are shown on television, it is usually in stereotypical roles that have us playing criminals, overly sexualized “spicy” women, and as maids/gardeners/accessories to Anglo households. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad – there are several Latinx television shows that broke the mold and became trailblazers in the process. To celebrate the inclusion and portrayal of Latinxs on TV and to inspire much more to come, we are sharing 12 groundbreaking Latinx TV shows you should know about.
I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
I Love Lucy was a truly revolutionary show. The timeless and popular sitcom starred Lucille Ball, as well as her Cuban real-life husband, Desi Arnaz. The Cuban actor, director, television producer, musician, and comedian made history as the first Hispanic/Latino person to co-star on an English-language primetime show. Desi also served as executive producer of I Love Lucy, through he and Ball’s production company, Desilu Productions.
Chico and the Man (1974-1978)
Chico and the Man is a comedic look at two different worlds colliding. Puerto-Rican-German actor Freddie Prinze played Chico Rodriguez versus Jack Albertson’s The Man/Ed Brown. For three seasons (the show lasted four seasons after Prinze’s death), primetime TV audiences got to see a funny Chicano, played by a Puerto Rican, in a garage in East L.A. Chico and ‘the Man’ was the first show in the U.S. to be set in a Chicano neighborhood.
¿Que Pasa USA? (1977-1980)
Almost 45 years after its premiere, ¿Que Pasa USA? still holds a special place in the hearts of Cubans everywhere. The sitcom, which centers around the Peña family in 1970s Miami, is “the first bilingual situation comedy.” Just read the comments on the Instagram post above from the Pero Let Me Tell You! podcast to see how deep the connection goes with viewers and this groundbreaking Latinx show.
Premiering in 1983 and lasting only 13 episodes, Condo centered around two families in the same L.A. neighborhood: the Montoya family, a Latinx family who is moving on up to a nicer condo, and the Kirkridges, a WASP family who has downsized from the suburbs. The next-door neighbors instantly clash and have to eventually work through their differences when their children secretly fall in love. It examined ethnic and class differences, delving into the preconceived notions we have about each other.
New York Undercover (1994-1999)
When so many cop shows put Latinxs in the role of the criminal, New York Undercover had Latinxs in the role of law enforcement. The show ran from 1994 to 1999 and had two Latinxs as stars: Puerto Rican Michael DeLorenzo and Afro-Nuyorican Luna Lauren Vélez. DeLorenzo, alongside African-American co-star Malik Yoba, made New York Undercover “the first police drama on American television to feature two people of color in starring roles.”
First Time Out (1995)
Before she was iconically Suzette Quintanilla in the film Selena, Jackie Guerra made history on her own show called First Time Out. In the vein of Living Single, we get to see Jackie interact with her friends and neighbors, as well as her co-workers at the salon. The actress was the first Latina to have her own sitcom, which is monumental. And the premise of the show, which also stars Latina Tracy Vilar, is that Jackie is a Yale graduate who opens her own hair salon in L.A. and goes to law school at night (how cool!), while also looking for love.
George Lopez (2002-2007)
George Lopez is one of the biggest Latinx comedians of all time, and from 2002 to 2007, he made everyone laugh with his primetime sitcom George Lopez (Lopez served as co-creator, co-writer, and co-executive producer, while also starring on the show). In addition to having a Chicano in the starring role (based on his own life no less), the show had several other Latinx actors – Constance Marie, Belita Moreno, Luis Armand Garcia, Valente Rodriguez, Elimiano Díez, and Aimee Garcia. Almost 15 years after its official end, you can still catch reruns of George Lopez on TBS, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and other channels/platforms.
Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
Based on Colombia’s Yo soy, Betty la fea, considered the most successful soap opera of all time, Ugly Betty was the United States’ reboot (there have been remakes in over 25 countries) and starred Honduran-American actress America Ferrera. Salma Hayek served as co-executive producer alongside Latinxs Silvio Horta and Jose Tamez. The show follows Betty Suarez, a nerdy employee, and fish out of water at the glamorous Mode magazine.
Devious Maids (2013-2016)
Devious Maids, starring Roselyn Sanchez, Judy Reyes, Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, and Edy Ganem, takes the maid stereotype and turns it on its head. Running from 2013 to 2016, and co-executive produced by Eva Longoria, the comedy-drama-mystery gave life and dimension to domestic workers; we were able to see their lives, dreams, and narratives beyond just cleaning for a rich white family (not that many weren’t still annoyed that Latina actresses were portraying maids yet again). Sadly, Devious Maids was canceled after three seasons, but managed to make history as “the first mainstream English-language drama that features five Latina main characters.”
Like George Lopz before her, Latinx comedian Cristela Alonzo has also become an icon. In addition to her standup specials, Alonso was a trailblazer with her ABC sitcom, Cristela. She became “the first Latina to create, produce, write, and star in her own primetime comedy,” when the show aired in 2014. Although it only lasted one season, Cristela, both the show and the comedian/actress/producer/writer/author, showed other Latinxs what was possible for us in Hollywood.
Taking place during the 1980s and ‘90s, Pose unveils the glamorous world of New York’s Latinx and Black LGBTQIA+ ball culture. That culture was revolutionary, as is the show, which lets the world in on the iconic houses, house mothers, performers, and their personal lives. Pose has “the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series,” and “the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles.” Mj Rodriguez, Angel Bismark Curiel, Indya Moore (who identifies as Afro-Taíno), and Jason Rodriguez are among the Latinx actors on the show.
Los Espookys (2019-present)
We need Latinx shows on television, but not with just one type of character, plot, and narrative. We aren’t a monolith, and our stories shouldn’t be all either. That’s why Los Espookys, created by Fred Armisen, Ana Fabrega, and Julio Torres, is a breath of fresh air. The ghoulish show centers on a group of friends who found a business to bring horror to others. HBO’s Los Espookys is also unique as it’s primarily in Spanish but marketed to a ‘mainstream’ US audience. Season two is in production and is scheduled to premiere in 2022.