As the casting of Hollywood films becomes more and more diverse, audiences eagerly look forward to seeing which Hispanic actors and actresses will soon become household names. But what many people may not realize is that Hollywood is already filled with many Latino celebrities who have already made an impact in entertainment, even though we didn’t necessarily realize their identity. From Spain to Brazil to Mexico, this list of celebrities has roots spanning the Latin world.
In 2011, during an interview for her movie Bad Teacher, actress Cameron Diaz opened up about her Cuban heritage. According to Diaz, her family, which is Cuban from her father’s side, had already settled in Tampa, Florida over one hundred years ago during the Spanish-American War (1898). Her ancestors lived in the historic Ybor City, where they began working as cigar rollers.
Diaz still holds on to relics from the early days of her family, objects like her great-grandfather’s cigar presses and choppers that he had used while working as a roller. Even though Diaz seemed proud and grateful of how she grew up close to her Cuban culture and heritage, the actress bashfully admitted that she never did quite learn Spanish.
In an interview with PopSugar, Jessica Alba explained how, even as a young girl, she had always felt a deep connection to her Mexican-American heritage. Her great-grandparents moved from Mexico to the United States, where she said they opened a neighborhood market, helped build the railroads, and even fought segregation by opening the East Barrio School for Latinos, located in Claremont, California.
For Alba, who doesn’t shy away from her Latin heritage, her roots are a sign of family pride, “I want my girls to embrace their Latino roots, know how much we have contributed to this country, and understand that the road ahead is richer when we acknowledge and embrace our heritage.”
Listed as one of the best-selling artists of all time, Bruno Mars was the son of a half-Puerto Rican, half-Jewish father and a Filipino mother. Growing up in Hawaii, though, Mars told Rolling Stone that he never thought about race: “Everyone’s kind of mixed up there, kind of brown because it’s sunny.”
For Mars, it was a shock for him going to the mainland United States, where music executives would try and categorize the prolific musician based on his race and ethnicity. Defining his background was no easy feat. His ancestors were Jews from Hungary and Ukraine, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos, all immigrants to America, meaning he can identify with a variety of different groups and identities.
Actor Oscar Isaac’s Latino heritage influenced the backstory for his character in the new Star Wars sequel trilogy, fighter pilot and Rebel leader Poe Dameron. According to an interview with Fandango, Isaac explained to director J.J. Abrams, “I was born in Guatemala, and one of Guatemala’s biggest claims to fame is that Guatemala is featured in the end of [original Star Wars film] A New Hope, at the medal ceremony, that was filmed…in Tikal, Guatemala,”
“So I said, ‘How cool would it be if that’s where Poe was from?!’ You know, he’s a Rebel fighter, that’s where the Rebel base is, why wouldn’t he be there? That’s an incredible idea.” J.J. Abrams apparently loved the idea: Poe Dameron’s origins were revealed to be on Yavin 4, the same moon as the Star Wars Episode IV medal ceremony. Isaac’s Cuban father met his mother when he was in Guatemala for medical school.
On June 1, 2019, while performing at a show in Las Vegas, five time Grammy Award-winning artist Christina Aguilera made an exciting announcement. After performing the bilingual track “Desnudate,” off the 2010 album Bionic, Aguilera exclaimed, “Let’s not forget: the Latin album is coming!”
This will be her second Spanish-language album. The first one, Mi Reflejo, already earned the artist a Latin Grammy Award in 2001. In spite of this, Aguilera has faced a lot of criticism for not being “Latina enough.” According to her, “I don’t speak the language fluently. And I’m split right down the middle, half-Irish and half-Ecuadorian. I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone. I know who I am.”
12 time Olympic medalist and world record holder Ryan Lochte is often seen on his social media accounts with an American flag wrapped around him. And, like many Americans, he is the son of a first-generation immigrant. Lochte’s mother moved to the United States from Cuba.
For Lochte, that meant he grew up with many Cuban traditions. One of the strongest traditions, cuisine, was a big part of his life, as he recalled: “One of my favorite Latino foods that my grandma or my mom make is breaded steak with some black beans and rice. I could eat that pretty much any day. Whenever they see me, they make it for me, because they know it’s my favorite food. But, we always have it for holidays!”
Ever since he was nine years old, the world has seen Charlie Sheen’s name flashing across screens for over 50 movies and television series. What many of his fans may not know, though, is that Charlie Sheen is not the actor’s original name. Charlie Sheen was in fact born Carlos Irwin Estevez.
Sheen’s grandfather was an immigrant to the United States from the Galicia region of northern Spain. But growing up, Sheen didn’t feel so connected to his Spanish heritage. In a 2012 interview for Fox News, Sheen said, “It was never a part of my life growing up, my parents never infused it into our household.”
Aubrey Plaza rose to fame after her role on Parks and Recreation, the NBC sitcom that aired from 2009 until 2015. But it seems like Plaza didn’t always like being in the spotlight. In school in Delaware, after winning diversity awards, the actress told Latina magazine that she would always feel embarrassed accepting the award — mainly because she was only half-Latina. Plaza’s father is Puerto Rican.
But that being said, Plaza reportedly feels very connected to the Latino side of her family. Her family was very proud of that heritage as well: growing up, Plaza said that, “My aunts and uncles used to teach my friends salsa at all my birthday parties in middle school. It. Was. Awkward.”
From the age of eight, California native Sara Paxton had already begun her career acting in films. By 2002, at age 14, she was cast in the major role of Sarah Tobin in the series Greetings From Tucson. From there, Paxton went on to play a mermaid in Sydney White before acting in the 2009 horror remake, The Last House On the Left.
When Latina magazine asked her why the daughter of a Mexican mother hasn’t yet played a Latina on screen, Paxton answered, “I’ve tried! Are you kidding me? I’ve gone on auditions and I’ve been like, ‘You know my family’s (Latin)…I’ve spoken a little bit of Spanish,’ and they’re just like, ‘Ha ha ha – that’s good!’”
Nicole Polizzi, better known by her nickname ‘Snooki,’ became popular after appearing on the reality television show, Jersey Shore. The famous program was intended to put a spotlight on a young segment of New Jersey’s population of Italian-Americans, and Polizzi got a starring role — even though she herself is not technically Italian-American.
So how did she get the part? According to the reality show star, “They were calling out Guidos and Guidettes…so I went and I auditioned and here I am.” Although both her parents are Italian-American and she was raised in an Italian-American household, Polizzi was in fact adopted at the age of six months old from Santiago, Chile.
NEXT: We had no idea these upcoming stars had Latin roots!
The 2016 season finale of the TLC program, Who Do You Think You Are, featured the incredibly-talented Glee singer and actress Lea Michele making a surprising discovery about her own family. In that episode, Michele discovered that her father was a Sephardic Jew, whose heritage traced back through Turkey and Greece all the way to Jews from Spain.
Shortly after, in 2017, Lea Michele auditioned for the role of Maria (who is, of course, Puerto Rican) for the production of West Side Story. “I worked so hard on the audition. Literally, I learned Spanish for it.” Unfortunately for Michele, it seemed as though her efforts — and heritage — were simply not enough to land her the coveted role…yet.
Of the many Latino celebrities on this list, readers may be the most surprised to find that Rita Hayworth, one of the most (if not the most) popular pinup girls of World War II-era America, on this list. That’s because Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino, went to great lengths to hide her Latina heritage from the public.
Hayworth’s father was an immigrant from the southern Spanish province of Andalusia. According to Erin Blakemore’s article in JStor Daily, after Rita was discovered in a Mexican nightclub, studios gave her a makeover affecting her name, her hairline, and even her diet. At the same time, Blakemore writes how her Latina heritage was a big part of her success, as it “gave her a path to stardom because it allowed her to mix wholesomeness and sex appeal.”
Actress Alexis Bledel, best known for her role as Rory Gilmore on the popular television series Gilmore Girls, is a lot more than she appears. Speaking to Latina magazine, Bledel joked about how most people, when they meet her, are prone to thinking that she’s Irish.
But the reality is that Bledel is a woman with a deep Latina heritage. Her mother was raised in Mexico, her father is Argentinean, and her grandfather was even the president of Coca-Cola Latin America. She remarked: “It’s the only culture my mom knows from life, and my father as well, and they made the decision to raise their children within the context they had been raised in, so we speak Spanish in my parents’ house, and my mom cooks amazing Mexican food.”
Best known for playing the character Fez from the television sitcom That ’70’s Show, Wilmer Valderrama credits his immigrant parents for instilling in him his hard work ethic and passion for success. Although born in Miami, Florida, Valderrama was three years old when his family moved to Venezuela for three years before coming back to the States.
When they came back to the US, Valderrama explained that the first thing his father said to him was, “Mijo, we came here to work…Your full-time job is to get the education that we didn’t have. Your full-time job is to learn how to speak English and obtain the tools you need to get to where you want to be.”
With more than 200 million records sold worldwide, Mariah Carey is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. Additionally, Carey’s five Grammy Awards and five-octave vocal range has made her one of the most successful singers in America. Most people don’t realize she happens to have Latina roots.
Carey’s grandfather was originally from Venezuela. When he immigrated from Venezuela to New York, he decided to make up the name Carey in order to be more accepted by his new country. Mariah has always gone by the last name of Carey, though had she kept the original, she could just as easily have been known to the world as Mariah Núñez .
Born in Washington, D.C., stand-up comic Louis C.K. moved back to Mexico with his family at age one, where they settled and lived for approximately six years. For Louis, this was a profound experience which significantly affected his career, remarking that “coming here and observing America as an outsider made me an observing person.”
Moving back to the United States pressured him to stop speaking Spanish, which was his first language. Even though much of his formative years in the United States very much obliged him to reject his Spanish language skills and Mexican upbringing, Louis still holds on to his Mexican citizenship.
Frankie Muniz’s name is synonymous with the hit Fox television series, Malcolm in the Middle. Playing the role of the main character, Malcolm Wilkerson, earned Muniz an Emmy Award and even garnered him two Golden Globe nominations for his work.
Born in the borough of Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, Muniz grew up exclusively in the United States, first in North Carolina then in Burbank, California after his family moved west. His mother, who home-schooled him for part of his life, came from Italian and Irish descent, whereas his father is Puerto Rican, making the Malcolm in the Middle actor half-Latino. And yes, Frank is in fact short for Francisco.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Morena Baccarin’s family moved to New York when she was ten. She became well-known for playing the role of Inara Serra in the sci-fi series Firefly and the later follow-up film, Serenity. Although Baccarin’s success in the American cinematic market was further enhanced by her roles in Homeland and Deadpool, she has remained close to her Brazilian identity.
In an interview with The Independent, she says, “I have this internal cultural struggle where there’s a side of me that is very Brazilian that misses the food and culture, and a side of me that’s very American that really loves the structure and predictability here. I feel that my drive and ambition is more American, while the passionate, laid-back side of me is all Brazilian.”
Born Zoë Yadira Saldaña Nazario, this much-beloved actress has a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother. She made her screen debut in a 1999 episode of Law and Order before accepting the lead role for James Cameron’s Avatar, later appearing on screen in the Star Trek reboot and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
In an interview with Glam Belleza Latina, Saldana said that while she doesn’t like to “break and divide” herself into categories, she considers herself to be a proud Latina. She even said in the interview that she plans on making sure that they learn Spanish like she did growing up, “Even if you have to use Rosetta Stone.”
There are several stories about what piqued magician celebrity David Blaine’s interest in performing magic tricks. Some sources say it was his mother, who bought him a magic set. Others declare it was his grandmother’s tarot cards. But the most consistent story seems to indicate he was inspired by a street performer who made a ring disappear in front of him. Whatever the reason, Blaine has become one of the most well-known magicians to date.
Blaine inherits his Latino background from his father, who is half Puerto Rican and half Italian. For Blaine, whose many feats including holding his record-breaking breath hold for 17 minutes, nothing seems to be out of reach. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that two of the greatest examples of magic in the modern world, the literary genre of magical realism and David Blaine, are products of Latino culture.
As a child, Bella Thorne moved from New York to California with the dream of becoming an actress. That dream, which came to fruition through films like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Midnight Sun, has put her in the spotlight and actually left many questioning her Latina heritage.
For Thorne, there is no question that this daughter of a Cuban father is, as she claims, Latina. In an interview with HuffPost she recounted, “People ask me all the time ‘How did you have a quinceañera if you’re not Latin?’ It’s a little annoying that people don’t realize I’m Latin, but it’s okay because I’m like right up there to tell them that I am.”
Moving from Rio de Janeiro to New York was much more difficult that Jordana Brewster could have imagined. In an article, the Lethal Weapon actress herself wrote for PopSugar, she talked about how, while all her American friends were rebelling against their parents in middle school, her norm at the time was intimacy and closeness with her mother and cousins.
Brewster writes that even though she felt different from her friends growing up, “I always considered being Latina one of my greatest assets.” As for her children, “I’m doing everything I can to infuse my Brazilian culture into them. I’m creating a mini Rio in Los Angeles for my boys.” Looks like you can take the actress out of Brazil but can’t take the Brazil out of the actress!
Born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, the Billboard chart-topping rapper changed his professional name to Kid Cudi, but has another alter ego seemingly based on his Latino heritage. That heritage is something he inherited from his father, who is part Mexican and part Native American, thus giving Kid Cudi Latino roots.
His alter ego, though, “Juan Pablo,” seems to be based off of Kid Cudi’s upbringing. In an interview with MTV, he opened up about the little-known Juan Pablo, describing him to the interviewer: “Juan Pablo is that character that I created. He was raised in a Mexican family, but he’s black.”
Fergie Duhamel may have been born as Stacy Ann Ferguson in Hacienda Heights, California, but the successful solo artist and former Black Eyed Peas member’s family came from far away. Her background includes Irish and Scottish heritage, along with a great-grandmother who was born in Guanajuato, Mexico.
But even though, according to the artist herself, Fergie is mostly Scottish and Irish, she is extremely proud of her Mexican roots. In a 2008 interview with Latina magazine, Fergie discussed her Latina heritage, saying: “I’m very proud to be part Mexican. I’m one of a growing number of Hispanics in America, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. This is becoming the norm, and it’s the beauty of our melting pot.”
Considered by legendary director Quentin Tarantino to be “my muse,” Uma Thurman is a widely-acclaimed actress in her own right. The Kill Bill star has been nominated for an Academy Award, two British Academy of Film and Television Awards, and three Golden Globes (winning one in 2003 for her role in the film Hysterical Blindness).
Even though Thurman grew up most of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts (moving to New York City at the age of 17 to pursue modeling), the famous actress actually has some Mexican heritage in her family. Her mother, a former model by the name of Nena von Schlebrugge, was actually born in Mexico and spent her formative years in the capital.
Sources: Rolling Stone, Latina, HuffPost