11 Latina Actresses Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

11 Latina Actresses Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

Surprise! Lupita Nyong'o was born in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish — oh, and she's also an Oscar winner. When it comes to earning quality roles and being recognized for their work, Latinas seem next to invisible in entertainment, so Nyong'o's win was a huge deal. Actually that's what makes all of the 11 ladies that follow so remarkable; they are the only Latinas to ever receive major acting awards.

Women you won't find on this list: Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives), Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), and Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits) — women gifted with acting chops who were considered breakout stars but haven't won a single award for their work (though they have garnered several nominations, which is more than worth cheering about).

Click through for a list of 11 Latinas who have broken barriers and won major awards!


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  • America Ferrera


    Image © Andrew Gombert/epa/Corbis

    She had already broken major barriers on TV, as the first Latina lead actress in a comedy -- Ugly Betty. Then, in 2007, she became the first, and so far only, Latina actress to win an Emmy in that category, an achievement she matched the same year with a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award. 

  • Gina Rodriguez


    Image © Mike Blake/Reuters/Corbis

    Like America Ferrera, Gina Rodriguez spent years getting small roles in indie films, and like Ferrera, Rodriguez became a breakthrough TV success on a comedy adapted from a telenovela (Jane the Virgin). So far, Rodriguez has followed Ferrera one more step: She snagged a Golden Globe for Lead Actress in a Comedy. She's the first Puerto Rican actress to do so.   

  • Sara Ramirez


    Image © Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Corbis

    Before she was a Grey's Anatomy star, Sara Ramirez was a Broadway diva with serious pipes. She won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for the wildly successful Spamalot, becoming the only Mexican performer of either sex to win a Tony.     

  • Karen Olivo


    Image © LAN/Corbis

    After her lauded turn in the landmark Latino-themed Broadway musical In The Heights, Karen Olivo, who is of Puerto Rican–Dominican descent, went on to land a huge, historic, and shocking first: She's the first and only performer of any ethnicity or sex to win a Tony for West Side Story, which has been produced on Broadway three separate times. 

    More from The Stir: 17 Latino Actors Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

  • Rita Moreno


    Image © Bettmann/CORBIS

    This Puerto Rican actress is everything. She is one of only eight entertainers ever to win the big four awards: Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. She was the first Latina to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress, West Side Story, 1961), a Tony (for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, The Ritz, 1975), and an Emmy (for Individual Performance in a Musical or Variety Show, Electric Company, 1977, which she followed with another, for Outstanding Single Appearance, The Rockford Files, 1978). She also has a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. One thing she doesn't have is anything to prove.

  • Mercedes Ruehl


    Image © Frank Trapper/Sygma/Corbis

    There was a 30-year gap between Rita Moreno's Oscar win and Mercedes Ruehl's (for Best Supporting Actress, The Fisher King, 1992). The accomplished stage and screen actress -- who had become the first, and so far only, Latina to win a Tony for Best Actress in a Play (for Lost in Yonkers) the previous year -- became the first Cuban American thesp to win an Academy Award.

  • Penelope Cruz


    Image © Frank Trapper/Corbis

    Just one year after her husband, Javier Bardem, became the first Spanish actor to receive an Oscar, Penelope Cruz became the first Spanish actress to do the same, bagging her own best supporting statuette for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in 2009. 

  • Priscilla Lopez


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    She's indisputably part of Broadway history, having originated the part of Diana Morales in one of the Great White Way's most successful musicals: A Chorus Line. The Bronx-born actress, singer, and dancer received a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, in 1980. She's the only female Colombian-American award winner ever.

    More from The Stir: 18 Black Actresses Who Broke Barriers & Won Major Awards (PHOTOS)

  • Lupita Nyong'o


    Image © Splash News/Corbis

    Shocked? Lupita Nyong'o identifies as "Mexi-Kenyan." Born in Mexico City, where her father was teaching at a university, she grew up in Kenya but returned to learn Spanish, which she speaks fluently. That makes her the first Mexican to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.   

  • Chita Rivera


    Image © Dennis Van Tine/Geisler-Fotopres/dpa/Corbis

    She's been singing and dancing since she was a child and she's continued to do so into her eighties. Broadway superstar Chita Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is also the only Latino of either sex to receive two Tonys: as Best Lead Actress in a Musical for The Rink (1984) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993).

  • Katy Jurado


    Image © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

    Along with Ricardo Montalban, Katy Jurado has had the longest career among Latino actors, ranging from the 1940s to 2002. Her specialty was strong women, and one such role earned her a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe in 1953, for High Noon. She was the first Latina to win the prize.   

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