If you grew up in the 90s, you’re aware of how different TV looks today vs. back in the day. In an era packed with so many Latina stars like Gina Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Selena Gomez, and Jennifer Lopez it’s kind of weird to look back and remember how absent such faces were almost two decades ago. Why? Because straight up: flipping on the TV and finding people who looked like us was quite a rarity in the 90s. Fortunately, there were a few characters around to shape our understanding of what it meant to be Latino in our youth.
Here’s to the trendy, geeky, rebellious Latinos who gave us strange new feelings, nuanced understandings of sexuality, and brought a bit more color to whitewashed screens.
Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez from “The Sandlot”
CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
Okay, hold up. First. Just look at those eyes^^^^^^^
There’s no denying that this brown eyed heartthrob had a huge influence in the spark of your sexual awakening. Not only was Benny the cutest guy on the team, he also shined through as the team’s star player and went on to the Dodgers. All this despite the times and the very white suburban neighborhood he lived in. 100% Benny is an inspiration and credit to Latinos who knock their dreams out of the park. Seriously, get yourself a major leaguer like this guy.
Sam Swoboda from “P.U.N.K.S.”
CREDIT: Ardustry Home Entertainment
Jessica Alba’s character, Sam, was one mean girl in this flick about a group of bullied teens aiming to shut down a corrupted company. For those of us who had a limited view of the parameters of what Latina could be, Sam’s character was a massive wakeup call. Sure, makeup and dresses can be our thing, but Sam taught us that we could get down and dirty right next to the boys. Even better we could run the show and be leaders of the pack.
Rickie Vasquez from “My So-Called Life”
It all seems like yesterday, but looking back at the 90s its hard not to flinch at the reminders of how rampant negative portrayals of Latino characters and homosexuals was. And yet, a positive representation of the LGBT community unexpectedly emerged on a little teen drama called “My So-Called Life.” Rickie Vasquez. He rocked a mean eyeliner, used the girls’ bathroom as a safe haven, and kept his friends in check while remaining fiercely loyal to them. Rickie was a massive launching pad for TV’s understanding of sexual fluidity that the 90s desperately needed.
Ruby from “Kids”
CREDIT: Shining Excalibur Films, Miramax
There’s no way Mima let you watch this film while you were a kid in the 90s. Bets are that you watched this with one eye on the door and a finger ready to hit “last.” Ruby (played by Cuban Puertorriqueña, Rosario Dawson) was the ringleader of a group of sexually active teenage girls doing quite a lot a little too soon. While Ruby didn’t always shine as a beacon of sexual responsibility, she did open our eyes to dark realities to come in our teen years.
A.C. Slater from “Saved by the Bell”
CREDIT: NBC Enterprises/NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Muscles ― lo siento, Mario ― Mario Lopez portrayed U.S. Army Brat A.C. Slater and took things to a next level for us (sexuality wise) after Benny Rodriguez. One peck ripple from A.C. and there’s no questioning what stripped us of the remainder of our Latina youth. And still, despite A.C’s heritage never being a thing in the early days of SBTB (though, there is an entire episode dedicated to Slater discovering his Chicano identity in “The College Years”) we all knew what was up. Besides Lisa Turtle, A.C. was one of the few people of color portrayed on the show which was a big deal considering how massive the show was. It always felt good knowing that we could flip on the TV and see someone who looked like us. LBR, especially one that was so guapo.
Ashley Banks from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
CREDIT: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Ashley Banks herself might not have been a Latina character, but Tatyana M. Ali whose parents are Trinidadian and Panamanian identifies herself as Afro-Latina. As a non-Latina character on the show, there’s no doubt Ashely still had some influence on us as kids. She was a smart, beautiful and witty girl of color and TV was missing quite a bit of that. While initially young Ashley did her best to model her dope older cousin Will, it wasn’t long before she began to grow into her own. She developed her own taste in music and fashion all while pushing against the tight reins of father Phil. In short, she became ultimate #rebelforindepence goals.
Selena Quintanilla from “Selena”
CREDIT: Warner Bros.
Of course, Selena tops this list (she will never stop topping lists and don’t you ever forget that). Selena is, was, has, and always will be the ultimate on-screen big older sister for Latinas everywhere. Ask any Latina who grew up in the 90s which female character inspired her the most as a woman and find us a gal who doesn’t name Selena. That’s because she taught all about the washing machine, the power of will, grace, and how bras could moonlight as bustiers. For that, everyone should be incredibly grateful.
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