Romance. Drama. Laughter. More drama. Novelas have been a part of just about every Latina’s life — teaching us lessons, entertaining us, and revealing just how much we all love to bear witness to a catfight or two.
Lots of us grew up bonding with our abuelas, tias and mamis over these classic novelas. Some major stars were even born out of these Latin American favorites (Hi Thalia!), while others gifted us with classic tunes we’ll never forget
Los Ricos También Lloran – 1979
This ‘70s novela stars the beautiful, iconic Mexican actress Veronica Castro, as Mariana Villareal. After Mariana’s father dies, her evil stepmother takes over the hacienda, forcing Mariana to escape to Mexico City, where she is adopted by a rich man and raised in the lap of luxury. The man has a son who, of course, becomes the love interest. Los Ricos Tambien Lloran (which translates to “The Rich Also Cry,” was the first global telenovela. It was a huge hit in Russia, where 200 million people watched the show’s finale.
Cuna de Lobos – 1986
Cuna de Lobos (Cradle of Wolves) of course has a villain with an eye patch. The show’s villain, Catalina Creel (played by Maria Rubio), kills her husband – and anyone else in her way – in order to ensure that the family’s money goes to her son. This novela was apparently such a big hit, that the always congested streets of Mexico City were clear during the show’s finale, as everyone was watching it at home.
Quinceañera – 1987
Not all novelas catered to mamí. Quinceañera starred young actors who portrayed issues that teens faced in real life. Novela queen Thalia, and Adela Noriega play besties from different socioeconomic backgrounds, who are preparing for their 15th birthday parties. Life, as it usually does, gets in the way of their plans. Dating, drugs, rape, gangs, pregnancy – these are the roadblocks the protagonists (and other teens) face. Quinceañera wasn’t afraid to address these gritty truths. Thalia sang the show’s theme song, which many girls played during their own big 1-5.
Muchachitas – 1991
This telenovela, about a group of four frenemies, introduced us to unforgettable Kate del Castillo. All four young ladies are enrolled in an arts academy, pursuing their dreams of stardom. Coming from varying socioeconomic classes, the girls soon find their lives, loves, and families way more intertwined than could ever happen anywhere besides the world of telenovelas. The telenovela was so popular that they brought it back in 2007 with a cast starring Angelique Boyer.
Dos Mujeres, Un Camino – 1993
Dos Mujeres, Un Camino (Two Women, One Path) was a ‘90s novela that took Chips star Erik Estrada off of the cop bike and into a big rig. Estrada plays truck driver Johnny Villegas, who delivers goods between the U.S. and Mexico. While away, he meets Tanya (played by Bibi Gaytán) and falls in love, although he has a wife (Laura León). Drama ensues, including the fact that both ladies become friends, without knowing the truth about each others’ relationships with Johnny. Hands down the best part of Dos Mujeres, Un Camino is that Selena guest stars as herself in an episode.
Maria la del Barrio – 1995
It’s no surprise that another Thalia-fronted novela is on the list–she was the queen of the genre. María la del Barrio, a remake of Los Ricos Tambien Lloran, is the quintessential, good girl, rags to riches story. But where there’s a good girl, there’s a bad one not far behind. Itati Cantoral plays the best villain of all time as the psychotic Soraya Montenegro. You know all those Latina face memes [in Spanish] that have gone viral? All Soraya. She helped make María la del Barrio a major hit, being broadcast in over 180 countries.
La Usurpadora – 1998
The good twin versus the evil twin has proved to be a winning formula for novelas. The premise helped make La Usurpadora (which means imposter) a monster hit. It stars Gaby Spanic (who is a twin in real life) as separated at birth, identical twins Paulina and Paola. Paulina is poor and good; Paola is rich and bad. When the two meet, and Paola convinces Paulina to switch identities with her, under false pretenses, all hell breaks loose. La Usurpadora was so good, it was another global phenomenon, followed by a special, two-hour sequel.
Yo Soy Betty, La Fea – 1999
Before there was Ugly Betty, there was Yo Soy Betty, la Fea. The Colombian novela humorously brought attention to how traditionally employers have been biased towards beautiful women, and against, well, not so beautiful women. Betty, played by Ana María Orozco, proved her worth, however, through hard work, at EcoModa, a huge fashion company. The concept behind Betty La Fea proved to be universal; the novela was remade in over 25 countries, including the U.S. (Ugly Betty).
Rebelde – 2004
Rebelde was a telenovela about a group of fresas (spoiled rick kids) who attend Elite Way School in Mexico City and are trying to form a pop group. What made Rebelde notable was that the cast members were part of real-life pop band RBD outside of the show and went on to become the most successful Latin pop group of all time, touring internationally and gaining worldwide fame. The show launched the careers of so many current day stars, including Anahi, Maite Perroni, and Dulce Maria. The group biggest hit was “Solo Quédate En Silencio,” but they blew up off the theme song for the telenovela.
Sin Senos no hay Paraiso – 2008
This telenovela took a super serious turn into the world of drug and sex trafficking and opening a new world of possibilities for the genre to take on serious social problems. Based on Gustavo Bolivar’s debut novel, it tells the tale of Catalina Santana, a young Colombian girl convinced that she needs to get huge breast implants to lift herself out of poverty by attracting a big-time drug dealer boyfriend. Based on a true story, the telenovela was optioned for an English-language show but never made it to the small screen in the United States in English.