Let’s take a trip down memory lane, back to a time when young Latinas had TV and film characters, even if limited, they could relate to: the early 2000s.
From Nickelodeon’s Taina to the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, we laughed and enjoyed watching girls who looked like us and shared our experiences on screen. While these representations, especially compared to that of young white girl leads, weren’t enough, they did provide us with characters and actresses to look up to. During these years, as young girls ourselves, having these Latinas play main roles broke barriers in film and television. Even more, they showed many of the different ways latinidad exists, with characters, of different shades and cultural backgrounds, from major cities on the Northeast and the Southwest. These personalities demonstrated different sides of what it meant to be a Latina, each uniquely bringing their brown or Black pride to television and showcasing the culture.
Here, some of our favorite Latinas we watched growing up.
1. Taina’s Taina Morales
“I know I can’t wait to see my name in lights. No one’s gonna stop me, you’ll see,” went the theme song to the Nickelodeon hit series Taina. The two-season show was about a young Latina, played by Puerto Rican actress Christina Vidal, growing up in Queens, New York who had dreams of becoming a star. With her determination and dedication, we watched her try to make it to the top and conquer her superstardom in high school. The Nuyorican teen showed us what growing up Latina was all about. In Taina, we saw a girl like us, someone hoping for the perfect quinceañera, gushing over crushes, struggling to write in Spanish, trying to understand the African, indigenous and Spaniard influence on Latinx culture and relatives who always worked to instill Boricua pride. She stayed true to her heritage while never giving up on her dreams, and we needed to see that.
2. “The Cheetah Girls’” Channel Simmons
Over on the Disney Channel, Channel “Chuchie” Simmons brought all the Latina flavor to the hit TV film “The Cheetah Girls.” The movie is about four New York teenagers who are trying to get their music group to go big time. Chuchie, played by Puerto Rican-Ecuadorian singer-actress-host Adrienne Bailon, particularly embraced her Latina culture in the second film, when the girls visited Spain, but she was relatable to all young viewers. While juggling friendship problems, her mom’s dating life and trying to make it to the top, she was never afraid to speak her mind, just like the Latinas we know and love in our real lives. Even through the Cheetahlicious breakups (because there were many), she remained strong and held the group together.
3. Lizzie McGuire’s Miranda Sanchez
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Lizzie McGuire’s right-hand girl was BFF goals: loyal, funny and always stylish — oh, and she’s mexicana. In the hit series, Miranda Sanchez, portrayed by Filipino-American actress Lalaine Vergara-Paras, celebrated Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition showing her character getting in touch with her roots, and spoke Spanish. Miranda always had a unique fashion sense and bold hair styles in every episode, which is part of what made her character so interesting. She embraced sisterhood and friendship, making her the best friend many young girls wished to have in real life.
4. Wizards of Waverly Place’s Alex Russo
Remember them…??? I miss them so much ?? maybe they are not a real family but they were one of the most cutest and coolest family ever…I would never forget about them ever…??❤?? #wizardsofwaverlyplace #alexrusso #justinrusso #maxrusso ❤❤?? @selenagomez @daviddeluise @daviddeluise @jaketaustin @maria_cb
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Mexican-Italian Alex Russo, played by Selena Gomez, was the protagonist of Wizards of Waverly Place, a Disney Channel series about siblings whose parents were teaching them how to master their wizardry. Alex, a New York-based high schooler, had a very strong personality and bold attitude. The series was one of the first to portray a biracial Latina lead, showing the teen struggling to speak Spanish and embracing her mother’s traditions by having a quinceañera. As more Latinas intermarry, this representation is evermore imperative.
5. The Proud Family’s LaCienega Boulevardez
Also on the Disney Channel was Lacienega Boulevardez, an Afro-Latina character on the cartoon The Proud Family. Voiced by dominicana Alisa Reyes, Boulevardez wasn’t always the nicest. She was the frenemy and neighbor of Penny Proud, the protagonist of the show. But with her name and bold personality, there is no forgetting her. She was vital because she was one of the first representations of a Black Latina, allowing many young viewers to be able to say, “she looks just like me.”
6. “Spy Kids’” Carmen Cortez
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Carmen Cortez was the definition of a badass Latina! The lead in ”Spy Kids,” a film about young siblings who become spies in attempt to save their parents, her strength and courage were important to display on-screen, not just for young Latinas but rather for girls everywhere. Played by colombiana Alexa PenaVega, Carmen was a strong, fearless and outspoken girl who cared immensely about her family and always fought for what she believed in. In 2001, when “Spy Kids” released, we didn’t see many females, let alone young girls, portrayed in media as brave leaders. It hasn’t been until recently, with shows and films like Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, ”Black Panther,” ”Hidden Figures” and, for the youngsters, Elena of Avalor, that we are beginning to see strong and intelligent women of color being represented in the media, so “Spy Kids” offering this representation was major.
7. Ugly Betty’s Betty Suarez
Betty Suarez was not portrayed as the stereotypical Latina. Her character, played by Honduran-American actress America Ferrera, wasn’t seen as the ideal beauty standard. Typically, Latinas are depicted as sexy, curvy, spicy and sassy women. But Ugly Betty, an ABC series about a smart and hardworking Latina from Queens, New York who lands a job as an assistant for a major fashion magazine, showed young Latinas a different kind of beauty. Betty wasn’t just focused on her looks but was goal-driven and determined to break into media, which she did — even though she dealt with tons of ups and downs along the way. She was unapologetically herself, a trait that every young Latina needed to see.
8. The Brothers García’s Lorena Garcia
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The Brothers García, a Nickelodeon series about a Mexican-American family growing up in San Antonio, Texas, was centered on boys, but Lorena, the sole sister and a twin, stood out. Being the only girl in her family, she had a lot to prove. Played by Puerto Rican-German-Russian actress Vaneza Pitynski, she did just about everything to get her parents’ attention in a home filled with boys — something anyone of us who grew up with brothers knows all about.
9. Victorious’ Tori Vega
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“You don’t have to be afraid to put your dream in action. You’re never gonna fade. You’ll be the main attraction. Not a fantasy, just remember me, when it turns out right,” goes the score for Nickelodeon’s Victorious, a series about a Latina teen who attends a performing arts school. Tori Vega, played by the part-Puerto Rican Victoria Justice, was a character that many young girls could relate to — or aspire to be. She was determined, strong-minded and confident in chasing her dream of becoming a singer while helping her friends achieve their own goals along the way.