Raquel Welch’s ethnicity — The late star’s ‘secret’ Latino heritage explained

Raquel Welch

When Raquel Welch first came into the Hollywood scene in the 60s, she broke the glass ceiling of established beauty standards and became a sex symbol in the post-blonde bombshells era. She also paved the way for the portrayal of strong and diverse female characters in cinema.

Surprisingly, she never aspired to be a sex symbol and was a conservative person off-screen. She called the fact that she became one ‘the loveliest, most glamorous, and fortunate misunderstanding’. Conforming to the norm of the time, she kept her true heritage under wraps and many do not know that she came from a Latino background.

Raquel Welch has Latino roots from her Bolivian father and Anglo ancestry from her American mother

In the 40s, Raquel Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada – named after her paternal grandmother Raquel Urquizo – to Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo and Josephine Sarah Hall. Her father, an aeronautical engineer from La Paz, Bolivia, was a first-generation immigrant who moved to the United States.

Her mother, a clerk at the aerospace company Convair and later General Dynamics, was born in Illinois, Chicago. She had English ancestry, dating all the way back to president John Quincy Adams and the Mayflower pilgrims. Raquel wrote in her 2010 memoir Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage that:

“I was born in 1940 in the Windy City, Chicago. Not ideal for a newborn baby girl with thin Mediterranean blood, courtesy of my Spanish father. My mother was Anglo. Her ancestry dated back to John Quincy Adams and the Mayflower.”

When Raquel was two years old, her family moved to San Diego, California. Her parents divorced during her teens and went on to remarry different people.

For most of her life, Raquel had a complicated relationship with her Hispanic/Latino heritage and struggled with her identity. At home, her immigrant father banned Spanish in an effort to assimilate with the American culture.

“In a way, [my father] didn’t have a choice. There was a sense of shame on his part, of the confusion and the prejudice around against Latinos. So, he suffered a great deal. I suffered some. My suffering is more of a kind of psychological feeling of not knowing who I am,” she said.

During her career, casting directors advised her to dye her hair a lighter shade and change her first name to prevent being typecast as the stereotypical Latina character in films. After being reserved about her background for four decades, Raquel formally acknowledged her ‘long overdue’ Latino heritage in a 2001 interview with The New York Times.

Since then, she had gone on record to proclaim herself a ‘proud Latina’ and even starred in numerous Latino-themed television series and films. In 2010, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 16th Annual Latino Media Image Awards.