National Hispanic Heritage Month 2022

Posted on September 13, 2022
A family gathering.

From September 15 to October 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans. In celebration, we’ve highlighted the achievements of several people (in alphabetical order) who have positively influenced and contributed to society.

Jovita Idár - born in 1885, from an early age, Jovita was exposed to civil rights and political activism. She attended a Methodist school, graduated and immediately began to teach. She quickly resigned due to the segregation and poor conditions in the Mexican-American schools. She decided to work at her father’s newspaper, La Crónica, and frequently used the platform to speak out against racism and in support of women’s and Mexican-Americans’ rights. She founded and became the first president of La Liga Feminil Mexicanista (the League of Mexican Women). This feminist organization started their activism by providing education to Mexican-American students. A few years later she served as a nurse to take care of the injured during the Mexican Revolution. After serving for a year, she returned to her father’s newspaper and proceeded to author an article condemning Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send U.S. troops to the border. The U.S. Army and the Texas Rangers showed up at her door to shut down the paper. She refused to let them in, literally putting her body between them and the door, and they left. Although the Rangers eventually succeeded in shutting down the paper, Idár continued to stand up for women and Mexican-Americans her entire life. Idár died in San Antonio in 1946, but she lives on in spirit as one of the powerful and influential Latinas throughout history. She quite literally changed the world. Her most famous saying was, “when you educate a woman, you educate a family.”

Frida Kahlo - born in 1907, would have been very surprised at just how famous she had become. Born in Mexico, she is known for painting small, intensely personal works. At 15, to prefect her art, she went to an elite, predominantly male National Preparatory School located near the Cathedral in the heart of Mexico City. She became famous particularly when the movie, Frida, starring Salma Hayek premiered in 2002. Frida’s paintings personified women in an intense, emotional way. They demand that the viewer, both men and women be moved by them. While she only produced 200 paintings of herself, family and friends, her life was a combination of highs and lows. A bicycle accident left her with injuries which plagued her. She turned that pain into haunting and stunningly original paintings fusing elements of surrealism, fantasy and folklore. Frida died at the age of 47 reportedly of a pulmonary embolism. Many of her contemporaries felt it was suicide.

Jennifer Lopez - born in 1969 to Puerto Rican parents who supported her ambitions to become a singer. She started taking singing and dancing lessons at 5 years old. Lopez dropped out of college to pursue acting, with her parents strongly opposing her aspirations. After touring the world with various productions, Lopez made her breakthrough performance in Selena – the 1997 movie, in which she played the beloved Mexican singer Selena Quintanilla, who had been killed just years prior. This earned Lopez praise and put her on the fast track to superstardom. Since then, Lopez has remained one of the most notable Hispanic American figures in the movie and music industry, often earning the status of “triple threat.” She also earned critical acclaim for her role in 2019’s Hustlers, which generated Oscar buzz that resulted in strong opposition to her being snubbed for the awards show. “Jenny from the Block” has always paid tribute to her Latin roots throughout her success.

Sylvia Mendez - born in 1936, Sylvia is an American civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. At age eight, she played an instrumental role in the Mendez v. Westminster case, the landmark desegregation case of 1946. The case successfully ended de jure segregation in California and paved the way for integration and the American civil rights movement. Mendez grew up during a time when most southern and southwestern schools were segregated. In the case of California, Hispanics were not allowed to attend schools that were designated for "Whites" only and were sent to the so-called "Mexican schools." Mendez was denied enrollment to a "Whites" only school, an event which prompted her parents to take action and together organized various sectors of the Hispanic community who filed a lawsuit in the local federal court. The success of their action, of which Sylvia was the principal catalyst, would eventually bring to an end the era of segregated education. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, on February 15, 2011.

Ana Mendieta - born in 1948, became a refugee at the age of 12, fleeing the regime change that brought the world Fidel Castro. Ana and her sister were sent from Cuba for Dubuque, Iowa. This sense of displacement and loss would later be visible in Mendieta’s incredible “earth-body” artwork. Most of her 200 pieces use the earth as their medium — drawing on native forms of knowledge, spiritualism, and magic, as well as being profoundly feminist in their approach and subject matter. Her work spans the mediums of performance art, and sculpting. Often overlooked in the art history books in favor of her husband, Carl Andre, who was controversially cleared of Mendieta’s murder in 1985, Ana Mendieta is only now getting the recognition she deserves in the art world.

Alvaro Obregon - born in 1880 was a Mexican revolutionary general and president. His administration marks the beginning of the constructive phase of the Mexican Revolution. As President, he restored order to Mexico after a decade of political upheaval and civil war that followed the revolution of 1910. During his presidency he managed to impose relative peace and prosperity. He supported organizations of laborers and poor people. During his administration there was significant reform of Mexico’s educational system. Before his second term of office he was assassinated by a Roman Catholic religious fanatic. 

Ellen Ochoa - born May 10, 1958 is an American engineer, former astronaut and former director of the Johnson Space Center. In 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Ochoa became director of the center upon the retirement of the previous director, Michael Coats, on December 31, 2012. She was the first Hispanic director and the second female director of Johnson Space Center.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - born in 1989, was sworn into office at the age of 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress, and her win was a historic victory for women in government, particularly women of color. Representing New York’s 14th congressional district, Ocasio-Cortez is originally from the Bronx and is of Puerto Rican descent. Along with Senator Ed Markey, Ocasio-Cortez sponsored a bill known widely as the Green New Deal, aimed at addressing climate change and creating economic prosperity through environmentally sustainable jobs.

Sylvia Rivera - born in 1951 of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican decent, is not only an influential Hispanic American, but an icon for the gay and transgender rights movements. Rivera had a difficult upbringing and left home at the age of 10. She had to learn to fend for herself as she faced violence and discrimination, and she eventually started down a path of activism. She met her friend Marsha P. Johnson, and together they formed Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which supported LGBTQIA+ youth in Manhattan. After the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the pair worked with the newly founded Gay Liberation Front to fight for their civil rights. After her death in 2002, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was established to provide legal representation to those in the Trans, non-binary, and non-gender conforming communities.

Lynette Romero - born in 1967, Romero is an Emmy Award winning journalist and television personality currently working as an anchor and reporter for the KTLA 5 Morning News. For her role as a reporter/anchor for the show called “Access LA” she won a Golden Mike and a local Emmy Award. She also received a local Emmy for her show called, “From Farm to Fork” The Latino Experience. During her early career she covered the Waco standoff, the papal visit of 1993 and the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. She is also a member of the University of Colorado’s advisory board for the School of Journalism and Mass Media as well as being a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She teaches an anchor and reporting class for UCLA Extensive and she spends much of her private time in the community where she speaks and performs in local schools and government functions.

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) - born in 1991 to El Salvadoran immigrants, is a queer Salvadoran-American abolitionist and critically acclaimed poet. Christopher’s debut poetry collection, Diaries of a Terrorist, has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Them.  His poems engage themes of intimacy, trauma and identity. Christopher offers other queer Salvadoran-Americans the opportunity to travel back to El Salvador with him. On this journey, they experience their queer Salvadoran heritage as an act of liberation and healing.

Melissa Villasenor - born 1987, is a stand-up comedian, actress, impressionist and artist who broke barriers by becoming the first-ever Latina cast member of Saturday Night Live. She also has voiced characters for Toy Story 4, Wreck it Ralph 2, Cartoon Network’s Ok K.O.I, Fox’s American Dad and Family Guy. She has filmed episodes for Comedy Central’s Awkwafina, is Nora from Queens, HBO’s Crashing and Barry. Melissa has been named on Forbes 30 under 30 and Rolling Stone’s 50 Funniest People Right Now. Melissa made her start as a semifinalist on America’s Got Talent. She hails from West Covina, and is of Spanish, Basque, and Mexican decent.

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