On Monday, July 13th, Naya Rivera’s body was recovered from Lake Piru after she was missing for five days. She was thirty-three and is survived by her son and family.
We ask that you respect the privacy of her friends and family during this challenging time.
Naya Rivera was most known for her portrayal of Santana Lopez on the hit show, Glee. She appeared in 116 episodes and quickly moved from featured cast member to a lead. She was a fan favorite for her smart-quick witted remarks and her beautiful voice. Santana was a flawed, complex character who was also Latina, something that does not happen frequently in media. She was a Latina who was in charge of her own sex appeal. The show itself did not sexualize her for simply being Latina, and that is a breath of fresh air.
I felt that I saw myself in a new way for the first time. At that age, I glorified cheerleaders. They were the cool girls in the movies. But they were often white. As a result, I unconsciously began to favor euro-centric features over my own. Santana Lopez as a cheerleader on Glee, helped me change my perspective on how I viewed myself.
Her Legacy With the LGBTQ Community
During her arc on the show, we saw Santana come to terms with her own sexuality. This plot touched the lives of many women who are attracted to women. And I would argue, set a tone for how lesbian and bisexual characters should be written moving forward.
While Glee was on the air, I grew from a child to a young teenager. It was on during a time that I was learning things about myself that I didn’t understand and was scared to understand.
My parents would also sit and watch the show with me occasionally. Being from a conservative household, during this time I found myself hyper fixated on how they would react to Santana’s storyline. I would watch as they would roll their eyes and scoff, but eventually, I watched my parents listen. I remember my mom sitting quietly as Santana came out to her grandmother, not scoffing, but listening. She probably doesn’t remember that but at a time where I had a secret I didn’t want to admit to myself, that meant everything.
My friend joked to me that she knew she was gay when she was “a little too into the Santana Lopez and Demi Lovato storyline” on Glee. The statement still makes me chuckle years later. But it also makes me reflect on all the lives that have been affected because Naya Rivera played Santana. Lesbian representation prior to this wasn’t non-existent but had a heavy male gaze thrown on the stories, or had tiring troupes. Santana’s arc of finding who she was allowed thousands of girls across the country to breathe. To see that they are normal.
Naya Rivera Did More Than Play a Character
Naya Rivera actively supported and advocated for the Santana-Brittany storyline. She did not view it as the butt of the joke as many of the writers hypothesized doing. Naya Rivera used her power for good, and in the process helped so many people, especially BIPOC people who receive less queer representation. She so accurately depicted all the anxieties that tag along with being queer, it felt real. It felt like I knew the girl on the screen.
Naya Rivera will be remembered beyond her tragic death; she will be remembered for the doors she opened for the LGBTQ community. She will be remembered for playing Santana’s storyline with respect and dignity. I am a queer Latina, and Naya Rivera helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. And for that, I can only give her thanks. Thank you for creating something so impactful.
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