Raquel Welch has died. Aside from the loss of a Latina icon and legend, I am saddened by the sparse coverage of her passing, and more importantly, her life. Too many publications seem obsessed with finding the next big Latina artist or “it” girl at the expense of spotlighting the women who have paved the way. We should all put respect on Raquel Welch’s name, today and always. Let’s start by honoring her now.
Raquel Welch was a superstar actress during the 1960s, most known for her part in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C. The role, and the bikini Welch wore playing it, made her a huge sex symbol. Her beauty and style became iconic. She graced magazine covers. And by doing so, she broke barriers, expanding the look-a-like, cookie-cutter, blonde-hair, Anglo sex symbols of the moment (think Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Diana Dors). Welch was change. She was diversity. She was resistance. Raquel danced alongside Cher on The Cher Show, singing the empowering song “I’m a Woman,” both ladies gorgeously repping for those who didn’t fit into the mainstream beauty box.
Because of Raquel Welch, we had a darker-haired, brown-eyed Bolivian woman looking back at millions of Latinas from their television and movie theater screens. And doing it beautifully.
And we’ve seen beauty without substance, looks without brains to back it up. But Raquel Welch had an IQ of 140 (100 is average, mind you). In interviews, she was assertive, articulate, and confident, choosing not to play along with the dumb sexy stereotype that teaches women that you can be desirable or smart, but not both. She was undeniably beautiful and intelligent and she didn’t back down from either aspect of her identity.
We already know that Hollywood is missing adequate Latinx representation. Raquel Welch was one of the few Latinas to hold it down for us in Tinseltown, in over 70 productions over the course of half a century. She was nominated for two Golden Globes, winning one in 1975 for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical/Comedy for her role in The Three Musketeers. The Boliviana also was an entrepreneur, putting her name on workout videos in the ‘80s (see, Jane Fonda wasn’t the only one!), a line of wigs, jewelry, and more.
Finally, Raquel Welch, born Jo Raquel Tejada, was a proud Latina. I actually had a conversation at work the day before Raquel passed, talking about how she was forced to take her husband’s name, Welch, as her stage name, thus Anglicizing it as well as her Hollywood image. They actually tried to go one step further, suggesting that she use “Debbie” instead of “Raquel” (they also dyed her hair blonde for One Million Years B.C.)., but she shut down that idea.
Raquel Welch is a Latina icon who you should know and respect, if not also love. She did a lot in a time when not many of us were accomplishing and achieving what she did. Heck, it’s still particularly hard for Latinas to get to the level of success she managed to achieve. So while we uplift and showcase the stars of tomorrow, let us never forget those who lit their way, like Raquel Welch.