Image from Hollywood Reporter.
On July 8th, at 33 years old, actress Naya Rivera passed away tragically. The news came on the seventh anniversary of Glee co-star Cory Monteith’s death, and needless to say, it was shocking. Many remember Naya from her role as Santana Lopez, a Latin American LGBTQ+ icon in the hit series, Glee. For many, myself included, Naya portrayed the first major television character who looked like us—a complex, multidimensional character who broke free from the stereotypes of Latin American women in mass media representations. While at first, Santana appeared to fall under the stereotype of the sex-crazed Latina, her struggle with her sexual orientation and self-acceptance resonated with many.
For me, Santana was a symbol of hope. Hope that more Latin American women would play complex characters and represent a variety of identities on television. She was hope for an industry more accepting of those who are different, an industry aiming for diversification. Santana became a mass favorite because Naya embraced the importance of her portrayal for Latin American and LGBTQ+ communities alike. She was a source of comfort and inspiration to young girls yearning to see themselves on screen, for people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, for anyone seeking acceptance and a sense of identity.
Naya’s passing has reminded me of the major role she played in my formation and career interests—seeing a fellow Latin American woman represented on screen gave me hope for increased representation behind the camera. She was a trailblazer, a force to be reckoned with, and her loss is deeply felt.
I want to thank Naya for giving me someone to look up to, to identify with, to feel connected to. Thank you, from me and everyone you touched, we hope to make you proud and continue the work you started.
Rest in peace.