If you’re a 90s kid, you definitely have a few pieces of pop culture from your childhood that you hold close to your heart. And if you’re a Latinx 90s kid, the chances are that if that show or movie or song involved someone Latinx, then you were downright obsessed. You could actually make the argument that 90s Latinx Icons were some of the first Latinx stars that wore their identity proudly on their sleeves. And this was, after all, decades before being “woke” was mainstream–repping your heritage wasn’t as easy to do then as it is now.
So without further ado, here is a list of 90s Latinx Icons that laid the foundation for current Latinx stars like Gina Rodriguez, Pitbull, Oscar Isaac, and Cardi B. Without these sexy stars paving the way for Latinxs in the industry, who knows where we would be now in terms of equal representation.
1. Jennifer Lopez
You can’t tell us you’re surprised that we started this list off with Queen Triple-Threat herself, Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer Lopez is the epitome of a 90s Latinx Icon. She danced, sang, acted, and managed to do all three successfully while looking absolutely incredible. Although Jennifer Lopez was vocally proud of her Puerto-Rican heritage, she also didn’t let it limit her in terms of the projects she pursued. JLo cast aside stereotypes and starred in rom-coms as well as thrillers. She released both English and Spanish Language albums. She defined 90s-era stardom and continues to reinvent herself into today.
2. Antonio Banderas
Although Antonio Banderas was born in Spain, and therefore not necessarily classified as “Latino”, he has become so famous in Latinidad and played so many Latino characters, that we believe he deserves a spot on this list. Antonio Banderas was a gigantic celebrity during the 90s, when he played various Latino leading-man roles from Zorro to Desperado. His charm, charisma, and good looks made him a major heartthrob during the 90s. It’s for all these reasons that he achieves the honor of sharing this list with the other 90s Latinx icons.
3. Selena Quintanilla
Selena Quintanilla is such a larger-than life icon, that there’s not much to say about her that hasn’t already been said. Born in Texas to Mexican-American parents, Selena took the Latin music scene by storm in the early 90s with the release of her groundbreaking album Entre a Mi Mundo and her high energy performances. Unfortunately, her ascendant career was tragically cut short in 1995 when she was murdered by the president of her fan club. Still, her brief life made a timeless impact on music, the Latinx community, and pop culture in general.
4. Mariah Carey
The “Songbird Supreme” of the 90s was born to an Irish mother and an Afro-Venezuelan father. After she released her hit song “Vision of Love” in 1990, Mariah continued to dominate the charts throughout the 90s with a record 14 Number One singles. If that doesn’t cement her iconic status, we don’t know what does! In addition to being crazy talented, Mariah has spoken candidly before about how her grandfather changed his last name from Núñez to Carey when he moved from Venezuela to the US. According to her, he was trying to avoid discrimination.
5. Salma Hayek
After finding initial success as an actress in Mexico, Salma Hayek moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of mainstream stardom. She burst onto the scene (and into men’s hearts) as the beautiful and vulnerable Carolina in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado. The industry was enchanted by her dark beauty and curves for days and she soon became an in-demand leading-lady of 90s cinema. Passionate about her Mexican heritage and insanely talented, Salma Hayek has always been vocal about the importance of Latinx representation in the media.
6. Freddie Prinze Jr.
If you weren’t in love with Freddie Prinze Jr. in the 90s, it’s possible you didn’t have a heart. Freddie was born to the late comedic actor Freddie Prinze (of “Chico and the Man”), who was of Puerto Rican descent. Junior rose to fame as a 90s heartthrob known for being in a string of teen movies, notably I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That. He then cemented his status in Hollywood by marrying another 90s icon, Sarah Michelle Geller. Freddie has always been vocal and proud of his Latino heritage and even speaks Spanish fluently.
7. Mario Lopez
Two words: those dimples. We were introduced to Mexican-American Mario Lopez through his role as AC Slater in Saved by the Bell which premiered in 1989 and ran until 1993. Although some tweens were partial to Mark-Paul Gosselaar, the more sophisticated fans knew that AC was the real star of Saved By the Bell. Handsome, kind, and athletic, AC Slater was the mom-approved heartthrob during a time when young Latino role models were few and far between. He was a veritable mainstay on the cover of Tigerbeat magazine during the early 90s.
8. Christina Aguilera
You didn’t think we’d leave off X-tina, did you? This former Mouseketeer became instantly famous with the release of her smash single “Genie in a Bottle” in 1999. Although her Ecuadorian father wasn’t in the picture much during her childhood, Christina is extremely proud of her Latinx heritage. She even released a Spanish language album in 2000 titled Mi Reflejo. As to the criticism she’s heard about not looking “Latina enough”? Christina has a few words: “All I know is no one can tell me I’m not a proud Latina woman”. Preach girl!
9. Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin was so talented and so sexy that you couldn’t turn anywhere in the late 90s without seeing his face on a billboard or a t-shirt. Born in Puerto Rico, Ricky was a child star in the popular boy-band Menudo. However, it was the release of the single “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in 1999 that catapulted him into international super-stardom. Not only is he a Latinx icon but a queer icon also. However, he refused to comment on his sexuality until 2010 when he confirmed he was a “fortunate homosexual man”.
10. Christy Turlington
When you think of the incomparable supermodels of the 90s, there’s no doubt that Christy Turlington comes to mind. But what you may be surprised about is that Christy Turlington is of Salvadoran descent. Born to María Elizabeth Infante and Dwain Turlington, Christy is both a Latina and a 90s icon. In fact, Christy has spoken about how she would spend her summers traveling through South America as a young girl. We love knowing that one of the biggest 90s supermodels in the world was, in fact, a Latina and proud of her heritage.
11. Sammy Sosa
Currently known primarily for his (alarmingly) changing looks, Sammy Sosa joined the Chicago Cubs in 1992 and proceeded to dominate the 90s as a right-fielder. Born in the Dominican Republic, Sosa spent his youth perfecting his baseball skills before moving to the US to join the MLB. He achieved Hall of Fame status in 1998 and is one of nine players in MLB history to hit 600 home runs. During the 90s, he was the embodiment of Latinx excellence and Dominicans were proud to call him one of their own.
12. Stacey Dash
Say what you will about current-era Stacey Dash (and there’s a lot to say), but back in the 90s, she was the height of cool-girl chic. Born to a black father and Mexican mother, Stacey became a 90s icon from her role as the privileged, trendy Dionne Davenport in Clueless (arguably the best 90s movie ever made). Dionne’s hair, clothes and general aesthetic made Stacey Dash the envy of every Afro-Latina girl who had a passion for fashion. To this day, the Dionne look is synonymous with over-the-top 90s fashion.
13. Enrique Iglesias
enriqueiglesias / Instagram
Before he continued his super-stardom into the 21st century, Enrique Iglesias was already a Latinx icon of the 90s. Ironically enough, the “King of Latin Pop” is actually of Spanish and Filipinio descent, but still makes this list because of his impact on Latinx culture. With his self-titled debut album in 1995, Enrique was able to sell over a million copies within the first week. He went on to release more albums in the 90s and smash other records, too. In 1998 he won an American Music Award for his album, Cosas del Amor. His competition? None other than Ricky Martin.
14. Benicio Del Toro
We first became aware of Benicio Del Toro from his award-winning turn as Fred Fenster in The Usual Subjects. Although he wasn’t particularly dreamy in that role, his personal presence on the red carpet was enough to knock your socks off. Affectionately known as the “Latino Brad Pitt”, this Puerto Rican actor was the kind of 90s icon that rejected his status as a sex symbol. Instead, he embraced roles that had a distinctive “character actor” vibe to them, as with his trippy turn in the cult-classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
15. Cameron Diaz
It’s rather ironic that Cameron Diaz, an actress that was continuously cast in movies due to her “All American” look, was actually Latina–Cuban, to be exact. At the fresh age of 21, Cameron was cast as the female lead in the hit movie The Mask and went on to star in hit after hit. She dominated the box office in movies like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Something About Mary, and Being John Malkovich. She’s spoken in interviews before about how her Cuban heritage shaped her as a woman.
16. Tatyana Ali
Known for playing privileged, but extremely kind, Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Tatyana Ali was born to a mother from Panama and a father from Trinidad. When we were growing up, we couldn’t get enough of her spunk and charm on our TV screens, at it’s accurate to call her an icon, purely based on her incredible 90s wardrobe. Tatyana hasn’t been afraid to discuss the struggle of growing up Afro-Latina and growing up in a country that fails at recognizing how someone can be black and Latina at the same time.
17. Howie Dorough and AJ Mclean
Okay, we’re cheating a bit by rolling these two boy band stars into one slot. But like any good boyband members, they might as well have been one person, they were so inseparable in the 90s. For those who don’t know, Howie and AJ were the two Latino members (and in our opinion, the best members) of 90s mega-band The Backstreet Boys. Both of Puerto Rican descent, these two met at a Latin Music festival in 1991 before they were ever in the Backstreet Boys.
Although Thalia never achieved quite the same success in America as she did in the rest of Latinidad, we would be crazy to leave her off the list. Thalia was a Latinx icon that truly dominated the 90’s. Known for being both the “Queen of Telenovelas” and one of the most iconic women in Latin pop music, Thalia was a triple threat to rival Jlo. She was named by Billboard as the most recognizable Spanish-speaking soap star in the world. Additionally, many in the industry consider her one of the most powerful women in Latin music. She is especially adored by fans in her native country of Mexico. She continues to work as an actress, singer, and entrepreneur today.
19. Patricia Velásquez
Although Patricia Velasquez isn’t the first Latina to hit the fashion scene (we’ve already covered Christy Turlington), many consider her to be the “first Latina supermodel”. The press labeled her this because of what was considered her more obvious “Latina-presenting” look. After winning Miss Venezuela in 1989, Patricia decided to pursue a modeling career and was met with immediate success. She proceeded to work for major designers like Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana, but she may be best known as the Undead Queen in 1999’s The Mummy. She recently came out publicly as lesbian, cementing her status as both a Latinx and a queer icon.
20. Andrew Keegan
Up there with Freddie Prinze Jr, Andrew Keegan was a sex symbol for teen girls that specialized in driving them wild. In the 90s, you couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing Keegan on screen (big or small). From 7th Heaven, to Party of Five, to 10 Things I Hate About You, 90s tweens couldn’t escape him. Could it have been his semi-dangerous, semi-wholesome face? We’re not sure. Unbeknownst to many, Andrew was born to a Colombian mother, putting him squarely in 90s Latinx Icon territory.
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