Naya Rivera Helped Make An Entire Generation Feel Seen

The tragic passing of Naya Rivera has broken our hearts. Celebrity deaths are never easy, especially for the fans that have spent any amount of time supporting that person. The sudden and tragic nature of Naya’s death hurts for so many, even those that wouldn’t consider themselves fans. Following the news, fans, friends, and former cast mates have taken to social media, showing their respects in various ways. Many know Naya from her time as Santana Lopez on Glee. Consequently, many of these tributes allude to that role.

Despite it’s flaws, Glee was a huge part of growing up for so many people. Reflecting on it now, most fans are able to recognize the problematic elements of it, but that doesn’t change the connection they had to the characters and the actors that portrayed them. Naya was no exception, and many admired not only her immense talent but the woman she portrayed. In remembering her legacy, many have chosen to remember this iconic character.

To be clear, Naya Rivera was so much more than Santana Lopez. She was a mother, a talented actress and musician, a daughter, a friend. Of course her life is not entirely tied to Glee and this character. However, she still played a part in inspiring an entire generation of girls that grew up watching that show. That deserves to be celebrated.

Santana’s Story

Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez on Glee (2009)
via iMDB

When we met Santana Lopez, she was the bitchy cheerleader stereotype. By the end of the series, she was an undeniable favorite. In the beginning of Glee it was clear Santana was meant to be a background character with a mean streak that made head cheerleader Quinn Fabray’s pale in comparison. Through killer comedic timing, a soulful voice, and effortless charm, Naya made a side character a fan favorite, delivering some of the most iconic, beloved lines and numbers in the entire series.

Perhaps the most impactful part of Santana’s story was her coming to terms with her sexuality and feelings for her best friend Brittany. For some people, that was their first time seeing a queer woman on television, a queer WOC at that. Santana struggled with her identity, terrified of what her family and friends would think of her. Her coming out journey was not easy, but once she accepted who she was she didn’t look back, and she didn’t dare let anyone else talk down on her because of who she was. Santana and Brittany’s relationship stole the show and was one of the most pure and stable ships to come out of the franchise.

Santana Lopez was fierce and loyal. Sure she was able to decimate anyone with her words and that can be scary, but she directed that power at the people that hurt her and the ones she cared about. She called it like it was, and we have Naya to thank for adding such nuance to what could’ve been a one dimensional character.

Naya’s Legacy

Naya Rivera and her son, Josey
via Getty Images

Again, Naya’s reach goes far beyond Santana Lopez but the connections she made with others will not be forgotten. For young girls struggling with their sexuality, she was a safe space. Naya played the role of Santana beautifully, and was truly grateful and proud to portray a character that resonated with so many. She took what little screen time she got and turned that into a fan favorite. The love people have for Santana Lopez would not be the same if Naya didn’t play her. She brought charisma, heart, and a voice like no other.

When fans and friends remember Naya Rivera, it will be for these attributes. Her bright spirit and smile, her undeniable talent, and the love she had for those around her.

Rest in peace Naya, you are in our hearts forever.

Cover Photo: legacy.com

About author


Jordyn Mihok is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying Communication and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her interests include movies, TV, travel, and music.
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