Skip to Main Content


  1. Governor
  2. Latino Heritage

Latinos and TV 

Trailblazer of the Day | Friday, September 20, 2013

Latinos and TV: From Camarena’s Chromatic Adapter to Ugly Betty

On August 31, 1946, a 29-year old inventor transmitted a color television signal from a Mexico City basement. Thanks to the curiosity, vision and genius of Guillermo González Camarena, color television was soon introduced to the popular market. He was just 17 when he applied for the first of his many patents: his “Chromatic Adapter”, enabled color images to be broadcast and seen on black-and-white television screens.

Camarena believed that:

     • color TV sets should be affordable to the typical Mexican consumer;

     • television should help curb illiteracy, and

     • evening programming should be “family-friendly”.

There was an Illinois angle to Camarena’s career. In 1950, Chicago’s Columbia College authorized production of televisions using the color system Camarena had invented. So, some of Illinois’ first color TV sets were made in Mexico. One of Camarena’s inventions went further than even he could have imagined. His “Tricolor” system was used in NASA’s 1979 Voyager mission to capture humanity’s first video images of Jupiter, a fitting distinction for one of TV’s great pioneers.

In 1951, Cuban-born Desi Arnaz became the first Latino to star in a network television show: I Love Lucy, portraying the loveable character Ricky Ricardo. His character was one that was not cast as the stereotype. “He played a Latino who had a steady job; they lived a middle-class way of life,” Fordham University Professor Clara Rodriguez said.

Arnaz was a pioneer in an era of television in which programs were aired live; he designed sound stages to accommodate large studio audiences and a live band, and devised the concept of multiple-camera angles. He soon became a producer, another milestone for a Latino in the Hollywood. Arnaz has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for his contributions to film and the other for television.

Mexican-American comedian George Lopez was the first Latino to host a late-night talk show, Lopez Tonight, on an English-language network in the U.S. Before that, he starred in The George Lopez Show, the first program with a Mexican-American actor as the main character and the first successful Latino comedy since Chico and the Man.

Earlier in his career, Lopez hosted a major morning radio show in Los Angeles, becoming the first Latino to headline the morning radio slot on an English-language station in LA, the nation’s top radio market.

America Ferrera, of Honduran descent, played Betty Suarez on the show Ugly Betty (2006-2010). The show went on to win two Golden Globes: one for Best Comedy and the other for Best Comic Actress on TV, which Ferrera was the first Latina to win in this category.

In 2007, TIME magazine chose Ferrera as one of TIME’s 100: The Most Influential People In the World. Ferrera is also politically active, participating in the organization Voto Latino to encourage Latinos to exercise their right to vote. In 2013, Ferrera completed a bachelor’s in International Relations from the University of Southern California.