There isn’t an industry in which Latinas haven’t made their mark in history, with some of the most iconic politicians, singers, actors, athletes and more coming from Hispanic descent.
We’re celebrating 5 of the most notable Latinas whose influence has touched everything from pop culture to politics!
At 90 years old, Dolores Huerta still stands as a giant in the fight for Hispanic American labor rights.
Born in 1930, the New Mexico native of Mexican descent grew up in a farm worker community in Stockton, California, with her mom and two brothers. She briefly worked as an elementary school teacher after attending college before setting off on the path of civil rights activism.
She joined the Community Service Organization, where she later met fellow activist César Chavez. She co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960 and collaborated with Chavez to found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.
Her activism continued in California, where she made a name for herself by supporting and leading various strikes for workers’ rights. She later stepped away from the union to focus on women’s rights after she was badly beaten by a San Francisco police officer during a peaceful raid, resulting in a long recovery.
Huerta now runs the Dolores Huerta Foundation and has received several accolades, including an inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 1998 under President Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom under President Obama in 2012. Bravo Dolores!
Ellen Ochoa made her mark by becoming the first Hispanic American woman to go to space with a nine-day mission in 1993.
Ochoa was born in 1958 in Los Angeles, California, years after her paternal grandparents immigrated from Mexico. She first obtained her physics degree from San Diego State University and later her masters and doctorate from Stanford University’s department of electrical engineering by 1985.
Through her impressive research work, NASA selected Ochoa in 1991 and she became an astronaut in July of that year. Two years later, Ochoa made history on board the Space Shuttle Discovery on a mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer. She later completed three more missions.
Ileana Ross-Lehtinen has had a career of firsts: she was the first Latina to serve in the Florida house, the first Latina in the Florida senate, the first Latina to serve in the US House of Representatives, the first Latina and the first Cuban-American in Congress, and the first woman to ever be chair in a regular standing committee of the House. A true political pioneer in every sense, the Republican representative announced her retirement last year after forty-years of service to her constituents and local community.
“We shall overcome”, sings Joan Baez, the legendary folk singer at the March on Washignton for civil rights in 1963. “We are not afraid today, oh deep in my heart I do believe , we shall overcome someday”; Baez lived by these words, as a passionate spokesperson for the anti-war effort, a civil rights activist, and a powerful, unforgettable singer-songwriter. Her human rights advocacy, breathtaking voice, and her continual fight for justice for the marginalized and oppressed that have secured her place in the history books.
“We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We are numerous. There are many of us out here.” Born in the Bronx in 1951, Venezuelan- and Puerto Rican-American Sylvia Rivera was a LGBTQ rights pioneer. New York City’s Stonewall Inn is now a historic landmark and destination for Pride celebrations, but in 1969, brave patrons like Rivera were resisting an unlawful raid by police. The riots at Stonewall were a turning point in history for equal rights. Rivera went on to be the co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which provides legal representation and support to all those in the trans, non-binary, and non-gender conforming communities, was established in 2002 shortly after her death.