From Ricky Ricardo To Dora: Latinos On Television

Movie star Salma Hayek poses with "Dora the Explorer" during a 10th anniversary event last year. Dora, voiced by Caitlin Sanchez, is only one of the most recent Latino stars in a long history of Latinos on television. i

Movie star Salma Hayek poses with "Dora the Explorer" during a 10th anniversary event last year. Dora, voiced by Caitlin Sanchez, is only one of the most recent Latino stars in a long history of Latinos on television.

Chris Pizzello/AP hide caption

toggle caption Chris Pizzello/AP
Movie star Salma Hayek poses with "Dora the Explorer" during a 10th anniversary event last year. Dora, voiced by Caitlin Sanchez, is only one of the most recent Latino stars in a long history of Latinos on television.

Movie star Salma Hayek poses with "Dora the Explorer" during a 10th anniversary event last year. Dora, voiced by Caitlin Sanchez, is only one of the most recent Latino stars in a long history of Latinos on television.

Chris Pizzello/AP
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While Spanish has long had a recurring bit role on English-language television, it has slowly but surely become an integral part of the American soundtrack. Think Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy, Freddie Prinze on Chico And The Man, Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. As part of our series, Two Languages, Many Voices: Latinos in the U.S., here's a look at a few highlights from the past six decades.

Latinos on TV: 1950s to Present

  • Desi Arnaz: I Love Lucy

    Season 1, Episode 28; April 21, 1952


    Born in Santiago, Cuba, as Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III, Desi Arnaz played Ricky Ricardo in the popular television show I Love Lucy from 1951 to 1957 on CBS. Arnaz was both the real-life and stage husband of Lucy (Lucille Ball). Before his role as Ricky Ricardo, Arnaz was hired by Latin orchestra leader Xavier Cugat, starred in many musicals, formed his own band and popularized the conga dance in the U.S. Arnaz was the first Latino to co-host a national English-language television show in prime time. In this video clip (, Arnaz plays host to guests who do not speak English, leaving them with the monolingual Lucille Ball. "Ultimately the laugh line is delivered in Yiddish ... as a way of saying 'Yiddish, Spanish, English. ... We're all Americans no matter what language we speak at home,' says NPR's Felix Contreras.

  • Pedro G. Gonzalez: You Bet Your Life

    Season 3, Episode 22; Feb. 12, 1953


    On the popular quiz show You Bet Your Life, host Groucho Marx grilled Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (born Ramiro Gonzalez-Gonzalez) in 1953. In this hilarious — and at times cringeworthy — exchange (, Gonzalez speaks Spanish, sings and dances and maintains a deadpan expression throughout. As he is about to sing a song for Marx that he wanted to serenade his girlfriend with, he starts to sing the song in Spanish, stops and asks Marx, "Do you want it in English or in Spanish?" His appearance on this show caught the attention of John Wayne, who signed him with his production company.

  • Jacqueline Kennedy: Campaign Ads

    1960 presidential campaign


    Jacqueline Kennedy spoke in perfect prep-school Spanish when she urged citizens to vote for her husband, John F. Kennedy, in a campaign ad ( during his 1960 presidential election. The first lady would go on to give short speeches in Spanish during trips abroad with her husband.

  • Freddie Prinze: Chico And The Man

    Season 1, Episode 1; Sept. 13, 1974


    Born Frederick Karl Pruetzel to a Puerto Rican mother and a Hungarian Jewish father, Freddie Prinze dropped out of high school to pursue comedy full time. Prinze got his big break when he was cast as Chico Rodriguez in Chico and the Man (1974), alongside Ed Brown played by Jack Albertson. The two were an unlikely pairing, but the series was popular among TV audiences. One of his most famous lines, which later became a national catchphrase, was borrowed from his Puerto Rican apartment building superintendent, who would respond to tenant repair requests with the answer, "Eez not mai yob." In this clip (, Brown, the cranky old owner of a rundown garage in a Chicano neighborhood of East Los Angeles, meets the young Rodriguez, who rides into his garage looking for a job. Though Brown "hates Mexicans," Rodriguez persuades Brown to hire him as a mechanic.

  • Bilingual Miami: ¿Que Pasa, USA?

    Season 2, Episode 6; 1978


    ¿Que Pasa, USA? was the first bilingual sitcom on television, with an almost equal mix of English and Spanish in each episode. The show centered on a multigenerational Cuban-American family in Miami struggling to hold on to its heritage and also learning to adapt in America. The show was produced thanks to a federal grant and a local public television station and aired throughout the U.S. In this video (, a friend provides advice to one of the main characters, Ana Margo, on how to prepare her grandparents for an upcoming U.S. citizenship exam.

  • Middle-Class Latinos: Condo

    Season 1, Episode 1; Feb. 10, 1983


    Condo, a 1983 television series, lasted only about a dozen episodes and was canceled after TV ratings dropped. It was the first time a Hispanic cast played an upwardly mobile middle-class Hispanic family alongside a white middle-class family ( The families interact with one another as equals and the children of the families fall in love and elope, drawing the two families closer together. ABC tried to replace Condo the next year with a.k.a. Pablo, a TV show about a standup comic named Paul Rivera and his struggling Mexican-American family. Many Hispanics took offense and protested the show's jokes and promotion of stereotypes, leading to its early demise after only about a month on the air.

  • Mario Lopez: Saved By The Bell

    Season 1, Episode 4; Sept. 28, 1993


    Born in San Diego, Mario Lopez is best known for his role on the 1990s sitcom Saved by the Bell, where he starred as A.C. Slater, one of six students who experience four years of high school together. During auditions, Lopez persuaded producers to give him a role written for a white actor. The show tackled teenage themes and did so well in its Saturday morning time slot on NBC that it went on to generate two spinoff series, including Saved by the Bell: The College Years. In this video ( Lopez reveals that he just thinks of himself as "American," but a college friend tells him he should stop denying his Latino roots. In Saved by the Bell, he is seen speaking Spanglish (a combination of English and Spanish) with the kitchen staff of the Malibu Sands Beach Club.

  • Wilmer Valderrama: That '70s Show

    Season 1, Episode 1; Aug. 23, 1998


    Better known as Fez, Wilmer Valderrama was born in Miami of Colombian and Venezuelan descent and is a source of fascination and comic relief as he tries to learn American customs on the popular sitcom That '70s Show. Though the other cast members poke fun at his thick accent and try to guess where he's from, the show leaves viewers only with the information that he is a foreign exchange student from an undisclosed country, in its very first episode ( in 1998. The show revolved around a group of teenage friends and was set in 1970s Wisconsin. Valderrama went on to play more visibly Hispanic roles, most recently in the children's television show Handy Manny, as the voice for Manny Garcia, a bilingual Hispanic handyman.

  • George Lopez: The George Lopez Show

    Season 2, Episode 11; Dec. 11, 2002


    George Lopez, of Mexican descent, is one of television's most visible Latinos. He is a comedian as well as co-founder, producer and star of an eponymous TV sitcom. Lopez also became the first Hispanic to host a late-night talk show, Lopez Tonight, on an English-language network in the U.S. The George Lopez Show was the first show with a Mexican-American actor as the star and the first successful Latino comedy since Chico and the Man. In the show, Lopez plays an assembly line worker who is promoted to manage a Los Angeles airplane-parts factory. In this video (, Lopez prepares for a visit from his in-laws.

  • America Ferrera: Ugly Betty

    Season 3, Episode 18; March 12, 2009


    Based on a Colombian soap opera, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, the U.S. version of the show Ugly Betty, with executive producer Salma Hayek (also an occasional actor on the show), became a hit. The show went on to win two Golden Globes after only its first season for Best Comedy and Best Comic Actress on TV for the show's star, America Ferrera. Shortly after the win in 2007, Rep. Hilda Solis, a Democrat from California, congratulated Ferrera on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for "breaking down barriers for Latinos in prime-time television." The daughter of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera plays a Mexican-American assistant with horrible fashion sense who is determined to make it in the publishing business. The show was groundbreaking in that it was produced by Latinos, had a Latino cast with a Latino storyline and was adapted from a script out of Latin America. In this video (, Ferrera speaks Spanish to help out a senior executive.

  • Sofia Vergara: Modern Family

    Season 2, Episode 2; Sept. 29, 2010


    Though she had many roles on TV, Colombian-born actress Sofia Vergara saw her popularity soar when she began to play the role of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett in Modern Family. On the show, her accent ( and heritage are the source of many laughs because of the confusion they cause. Vergara notes that though she is naturally blond, she dyed her hair brunette because producers didn't know how to cast her when she started acting in the U.S., "because I was voluptuous and had the accent ... it was ignorance: They thought every Latin person looks like Salma Hayek."

  • Caitlin Sanchez: Dora The Explorer

    Season 1, Episode 1; Aug. 7, 2011


    Children's television in the past few decades has consistently outpaced prime-time television in the quality and richness of its portrayal of Latinos. Sesame Street was a pioneer in its use of Spanish and Latino characters. In the mid 1990s, Puerto Rican born Rita Moreno provided the voiceover for Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? which was adapted for television based on the computer game. What followed was a flood of children's television programming like Maya & Miguel, Go, Diego! Go! and Handy Manny, which prominently feature bilingual characters. Dora the Explorer, currently voiced by Caitlin Sanchez, debuted in 2000 and is still running strong, with movies, dolls, books, video games and the launch of Dora's Explorer Girls for preteens. Colombian pop star Shakira guest-starred ( as an animated character on the show this summer.



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