Naya Rivera's death is incredibly heartbreaking news for anyone familiar with the actor and singer, but it hits especially hard for Rivera's Latinx and LGBTQ+ fans. Her most famous role was Santana Lopez on Glee, a character who meant so much to Latinx viewers looking for representation on screens, as well as queer folks who saw a high schooler accept herself and own her sexuality unapologetically. These tweets about Naya Rivera from Glee fans spell out just how important her portrayal of Santana was for underrepresented communities.
Initially only a recurring character, Santana was quickly promoted to a series regular shortly after Glee debuted in 2009 thanks to Rivera's talent and tenacity. Santana's evolution from a sharp-tongued cheerleader antagonist to a beloved member of the show's core group was one of Glee's most touching character arcs, and the most notable aspect of that evolution was her exploration and acceptance of her sexuality. In Season 2, Santana struggled with her attraction to her best friend Brittany, and she later came out as a lesbian. For the bulk of the series, Santana was fiercely proud of her sexuality, and ended up getting married to Brittany in the show's final season.
Understandably, Santana was hugely important to Glee's young, queer viewers, just as she was in representing the Latinx community. For many people, Santana was the first Latinx lesbian character they ever saw on television. In light of Rivera's tragic death, which was confirmed on Monday, July 13, fans are paying tribute to the impact her most famous role had on these underrepresented communities.
It was not just viewers who understood how deeply important the character of Santana was to Latinx and queer fans; Glee creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan released a statement to Variety after Rivera's death that highlighted how much thought and care she brought to portraying Santana:
Her greatest Glee legacy is probably the humor and humanity that she brought to Santana’s relationship with her best friend and eventual girlfriend/wife Brittany (played by Heather Morris). It was one of the first times an openly lesbian, high school relationship was seen on network television and Naya understood what “Brittana” meant to the many young women who were seeing themselves represented on television for the first time. Naya always made sure that Santana’s love for Brittany was expressed with dignity, strength, and with pure intentions. Naya was always moved by the girls who reached out to her to tell her how much Santana and Brittany’s love affected them. Naya’s obligation to them — and to all of her fans — was obvious. She had the rare combination of humility and endless confidence in her talent.
It's clear Rivera's spirit and impact will live on in the hearts of every Glee fan who felt seen because of Santana. Thankfully, Glee is available to stream on Netflix, so fans can rewatch all the best Santana moments whenever they want.