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How Hollywood's Prejudice Towards "Different" Long Erased Actress Raquel Welch's Latina Heritage


The big movie studios asked her to change her name and dye herself blonde. And, at home, his father of Bolivian origin forbade Spanish. It wasn't until the early 2000s that Welch, whose real last name was Tejada, claimed his Latino identity. By then he had a 40-year career.

By Raul A. Reyes -

NBC News

When Raquel Welch died this week at the age of 82, condolences and tributes poured in from all over the world.

The star of films such as

One Million Years BC

(1966) and

The Three Musketeers

(1973) was lauded for her work on film, television, and musical theater on Broadway.

But few spoke of an important angle in his life: his complicated relationship with his cultural heritage.

Like many Latinas, the actress faced challenges in her personal and professional life.

And her connection with her roots was a reflection of the time she had to live.

[Actress Raquel Welch, Considered a '60s Sex Icon, Dies at 82]

Jo-Raquel Tejada was born in Chicago in 1940. Her father, Armando Tejada, was an aeronautical engineer of Bolivian origin, while her mother, an American, had ancestors who came to the United States on the English pilgrim ship Mayflower.

Like many immigrants of his generation, Welch's father believed that cultural integration or assimilation


the only way to survive in the United States.

He forbade Spanish from being spoken at home

and raised his family in La Jolla, California, away from other Latino families.

“In a way, he had no choice.

He felt ashamed of the confusion and prejudice that existed against Latinos

”, Welch declared in an interview with The New York Times in 2002. “So he suffered a lot.

I suffered a bit.

My suffering is more a kind of psychological feeling of not knowing who I am."

John Richardson and Raquel Welch in 'One Million Years B.C'.Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Around the time she got her start in Hollywood, Welch was a divorced mother of two, acting under her first husband's last name.

At first, even that last name change didn't seem like enough for her to succeed.

When she was signed by the 20th Century Fox studio, she suggested that she also change her name to Debbie, because Raquel sounded too ethnic.

"You couldn't be much different

," Welch said in his interview with The New York Times.

And she recalled that in her first role in

One Million Years BC

, she dyed her hair blonde.

"It was for a marketing issue."

“At that time, everyone changed their name to fit the image they wanted to sell, or the image the studios wanted to sell,” explained Luis I. Reyes, author of Viva Hollywood, a complete history


Latinos in the cinema.


there was a prejudice against foreign-sounding names


[Several Latin artists among the nominees for the Oscars 2023]

Reyes compares Welch to other stars like Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino,

and Anthony Quinn, actually Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn, who agreed to change their names to pursue a career.

If Welch did not actively promote his Latino identity when he rose to fame, it was largely because it was an unknown concept in the 1960s. Terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino” were not in general use at the time, and the Hispanic Heritage Month would not exist until 1988.

“His heritage was always there

Brian Herrera, a professor at Princeton University, describes Welch as "a stealthy Latina."

“His heritage was always there, always visible, and it was not a secret.

However, she was not fully incorporated into his system,” according to Herrera.

Long before the media portrayed artists as Latino, many were aware that Welch was “one of us,” she said.

“It was complicated for him,” Herrera explained of Welch's ethnic origin.

“And her success came in a transition period when American culture was beginning to understand Latino culture.”

Raquel Welch at the Emmy Awards in 1987. Bob Riha Jr / Getty Images

Although he was known mostly as a

sex symbol

, Welch played a wide variety of roles


At the height of the civil rights movement, she made history with interracial love scenes in

100 Rifles

(1969), with African-American actor Jim Brown.

She played a transgender character in

Myra Breckinridge


Lou Gehrig's sick woman in

Right to Die


and a wealthy widow in

Legally Blonde


[Rita Moreno will be part of the Hall of Fame of the Television Academy]

In real life, Welch also became what The Hollywood Reporter called

an "unlikely hero in the fight for actors' rights"

when she successfully sued MGM studios for breach of contract in 1981.

She won $10 million after being fired from the movie

Cannery Row

at age 40 and replaced by Debra Winger, 15 years her junior.

It was a landmark legal victory against sexism and ageism in the entertainment industry.

"Rediscovering its roots"

It wasn't until the early 2000s that Welch claimed his ethnic identity.

“Latinos are here to stay,” she declared at the National Press Club in 2002. “As a citizen, Raquel, I am proud to be a Latina.”

When Welch gave her interview to The New York Times that same year, that interview was considered her “coming out” as a Latina.

By then, she had been in Hollywood for almost 40 years.

"I'm happy to acknowledge it (my heritage), it's long overdue," she said.


There has been a kind of emptiness in my heart and also in my work for a long, long time

. "

Raquel Welch accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Lucy Nicholson/AFP via Getty Images

The belated acceptance of their roots is not unlike some Latinos who don't explore their heritage until adulthood.

For Welch, this marked a career renaissance for her, as she went on to act in Latino-themed projects like

Tortilla Soup


American Family

(2002) and

How to Be a Latin Lover


In 2001, she received the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors the contributions of Latinos to the entertainment industry.

[Few have won an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony like Rita Moreno: this is how she faced discrimination for being a woman and Latina]

“She rediscovered her roots, she embraced them when times changed

,” said entertainment journalist and podcaster Jack Rico.

“She must have had to work with layers, a kind of suppression of herself that she no longer needed or wanted to hide.

And the market was ready for it."

If Welch had followed her career early on as a Latina, Rico thought, she might have had a career more like Rita Moreno's.

Although Moreno became the first Latina to win an acting Oscar for

West Side Story

in 1962, she often played supporting roles.

Instead, she pointed out, “From the very beginning, Welch was an icon.

She achieved classic, one-of-a-kind, genuine Hollywood stardom, which is an incredible feat.”

"I was looking for relationships with men who didn't love me": Noticias Telemundo interviews the emblematic Latin actress Rita Moreno

May 6, 202201:55

Following her passing, the National Hispanic Media Coalition praised Welch, noting that she "broke the stigma of the typical Hollywood blonde bombshell" and that, in essence, she honored her identity by fighting against the standards that were set early in her career.

The author Luis I. Reyes assured that Welch deserves to be remembered as a unique American star.

“He went through many stages in his career.

She paved the way for someone like Ana de Armas to be able to play Marilyn Monroe

,” she stated.

“She really represented the fusion of the Latino contribution to American culture, and the complexity of the Latino experience.”

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-02-18

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