The Latino character on mainstream television

by Eric Cortes

Since ABC launched Modern Family last year, we’ve seen more Latino characters play actual Latino characters. But how and when did this begin? There’s always been an issue with Latinos playing a Latino or another ethnic background playing a Latino. Let’s take a look at some of the shows which may have paved the way to how Latino characters are portrayed today. 

One show that comes to mind is actually what some people would say is the beginning of the reality TV era. MTV’s The Real World used to cast some of the most interesting characters to create “made for TV drama.” I personally saw them give Latinos a very interesting perception. The way I saw Latinos were that they were loud, obnoxious and always starting drama. There was Pedro, Michelle, Willie and a cast of other dramatic Latinos. Thankfully Sofia Vergara’s character on Modern Family isn’t as dramatic. However, there are times where her culture is represented. This is good and bad; better because it’s teaching mainstream America about Colombia.

Blair Underwood recently took to Facebook to respond to the backlash about his new role as Afro-Cuban American President Elias Martinez on NBC’s new series, The Event. Some people think that Underwood shouldn’t play the part because he is not Latino. But who are we to judge about the cast? Was there a real Latino who was “good enough” to play an Afro-Cuban American President? Think about Jessica Alba and her characters. I doubt the Invisible Woman is Latina.  John Leguizamo’s story is most notable because of his plays and how he portrays himself. During the beginning of his career he was tagged as the “drug dealer.” However, he soon became something more than just “the Latino.”

The question about Latino characters will always be raised. A 1997 El Futuro newsletter said, “Latinos have rarely been featured in lead roles that portray upper- or middle-class American citizens. Instead they play minor roles, often as maids, janitors, drug lords or gang members–two-dimensional stereotyped characters with little depth.” The issue at hand comes down to Latinos taking a stand in the theater world. As more Latinos study this art every year, the more roles will be available for Latino actors.


To learn more about Eric,
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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2 Comments to “The Latino character on mainstream television”

  1. Completely disagree with the article, but read it anyway. Modern Family still portrays the feisty and beautiful Latina married to her dream man: a white man. Pfft fuck you.

    Underwood being black, played a Latino president because he’s the best for the part. No other Latino actor, since there aren’t any, can play this man. Pfff and fuck you twice.

  2. The role of a dominant culture is to keep the so called “minority” cultures in the margin. What’s great is that Latinos are counter-mainstreaming already. It’s happening 🙂

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