Latinx Files: The Turkish dramas taking over señoras’ lives

Neslihan Atagül and Burak Özçivit
Neslihan Atagül and Burak Özçivit star in the Turkish drama “Kara Sevda” (“Amor Eterno”/“Endless Love”).
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / De Los; Photos by Dave Benett / Getty Images and Daniele Venturelli / Getty Images)

Periodically, the Latinx Files will feature a guest writer. This week, we’ve asked De Los contributing columnist Alex Zaragoza to fill in. If you have not subscribed to our weekly newsletter, you can do so here.

My mom was sitting in the comfy chair in my living room completely enraptured by her phone, clutching her chest and contorting her face into a look I can only compare to a tantalized duck in the midst of a yearn-induced tantrum. The volume was at full señora level, and I could hear a man and a woman speaking breathlessly to one another in a dubbed-sounding Spanish.

My interest was fully piqued after she gasped and uttered “desgraciado” under her breath.

“Qué estás viendo, ‘ama?”

It turns out my mom, like many others over the last few years, has become fully obsessed with Turkish dramas known as dizi — she calls them her “novelas Turcas.” I posted a photo of this scenario on Instagram stories and was immediately hit with a bunch of DMs from people telling me their mom, tia, dad, abuelos and neighbors were also infatuated by them.


For years, Turkish dramas have found a massive audience in Latin America. Demand for these series has grown globally, but countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador have seen major spikes. The phenomenon kicked off in 2014 when the drama “Binbir Gece,” or “1001 Nights”/”Las Mil y Una Noches,” aired in Chile and became a ratings juggernaut. Other Latin countries followed soon after to equal success. Such is the obsession with them that parents in Latin America started giving their babies Turkish names. Welcome to the world, Sehrazat Beyza Rodriguez!

In the United States, dizi can be seen on Univision and Telemundo, as well as streamers such as Netflix, VIX, Peacock, Kanal D Drama and Fubotv. They are also available on YouTube,, Dailymotion and

As writer Fatima Bhutto explained in 2019, these melodramas are “sweeping epics, with each episode usually running to two hours or longer,” with multiple seasons that span 40 or more episodes. Dizi lean heavily on yearning when it comes to storylines, have massive casts (some feature as many as 50 characters) and are mostly filmed on location in Istanbul — giving viewers a snapshot of Turkey and its culture.

The latter is one of the reasons why these series have overwhelmingly resonated with Latino viewers, said Pilar Barabino, a 59-year-old in West Covina. She has seen “Erkenci Kuş”(“Pájaro Soñador”/“Daydreamer,” the first Turkish rom-com to air in the U.S. Latin market), “Kara Sevda” (“Amor Eterno”/“Endless Love”) and is currently watching “Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne” (“¿Qué culpa tiene Fatmagül?/”What Is Fatmagül’s Fault?”). Apart from the excellent acting, juicy, often poignant stories, and “hot guys,” Barabino loves these telenovelas because of how much she learns about Turkish culture.

“Oh my God. They make so much food!” said Barabino, who watches on YouTube with Spanish subtitles. “You can see another country. Sometimes you cannot travel and you can see the other side of the world that is pretty beautiful. How they live, their traditions.”


Isla Franco, 41, from San Diego tunes in with her mom. Their favorite is “Kara Para Aşk” (“Black Money Love”), which revolves around the murder of a police officer’s fiancé.

“She tried to explain [the show] to me, but she complicates the whole thing, so I’m like, ‘Let me just watch it,’” said Franco. “I just watched the trailer and then all of a sudden, I’m hooked.”

Like Barabino, Franco is also fascinated by seeing Turkish traditions, especially when it comes to courtship.

“We just finished watching a novela where they never kissed,” she explained. “They never kissed in the mouth like they do in all these novelas that you see, or even movies nowadays. [In these series], it’s a kiss on the cheek or the forehead. That caught my eye. It’s neat.”

That certainly helps avoid any awkwardness with your parents.

When I asked my mom why she liked dizi so much, she said that the Mexican melodramas nowadays “se han hecho muy descaradas” — have too much kissing, too much sex talk, too much skin.

Everyone I spoke to connected to these Turkish series and embraced the cultural differences as a way of learning. None of them was deterred from watching by language barriers, subtitles or accessibility — many had to track down episodes on YouTube or small streamers.


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It’s no wonder the Spanish-language networks have jumped on the dizi train to major success.

“Univision’s decision to program this content was driven by a combination of factors,” Barbara Musa Ruiz, vice president of programming and strategy at TelevisaUnivision, told me. “While the network takes pride in its long-standing tradition of producing acclaimed telenovelas in Mexico that have entertained audiences for years, it also recognizes the importance of keeping pace with global trends and successes. The widespread popularity of Turkish dramas worldwide presented an opportunity that Univision couldn’t overlook, prompting the expansion of our content offering.”

The 2019 premiere of “Amor Eterno” marked a significant milestone for Univision, Musa Ruiz said. It was a ratings smash, earning an international Emmy for best telenovela. Univision has continued to invest in dizi, acquiring and adapting them for their audience.

“The widespread popularity of Turkish dramas among Latino audiences reflects their remarkable quality, relatability and emotional depth,” Musa Ruiz said. “These shows skillfully intertwine universal themes such as love, family, loyalty, betrayal and social justice, resonating with viewers across cultural boundaries.”

It’s no surprise that Latinos have embraced Turkish melodramas. After all, we have always had to take what was available to us. Despite being one of the biggest consumers of media — U.S. Latinos account for 24% of box office ticket sales and 24% of streaming subscribers — we are nearly invisible on screen and behind the cameras. For an industry that loves money, they sure leave a lot of it off the table by ignoring us.


We are accustomed to searching for connection to characters and stories that resonate with us beyond direct resemblance of physicality, beliefs or culture. A good story is a good story, and we will watch it, whether it’s American sitcoms, Turkish dizi or K-dramas, which have also become huge among Latinos.

But history has proven that this can go both ways.

The success of “Ugly Betty,” the ABC sitcom adapted from the Colombian telenovela “Yo Soy Betty, la Fea” and eventually remade in 17 other countries, was proof that telenovelas work for mainstream network audiences. Netflix’s “Queen of the South” was also a hit. In the 1990s, Thalia became a massive star in the Philippines after the telenovela “MariMar” (Ow!) premiered in the country, making it the first Mexican series to air in the Philippines. It was a ratings beast, and “Maria Mercedes,” “Rosalinda,” and “Maria la del Barrio” found similar success.

So, what’s keeping Hollywood from making more of them? The señoras — my mom especially — are ready to lock in!

— Alex Zaragoza

Latinx Files
(Jackie Rivera / For The Times; Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

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