In the United States, September 15 – October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the diversity and bring awareness of the issues that matter to the Hispanic community. Girl Up values the diversity and the voices of girls in the U.S. and around the world as they stride to reach their goals. We know how important representation matters, so we asked Teen Advisor Leslie Arroyo, a first-generation Mexican-American, who are some Latinx* leaders every girl – and boys – should know about. Below are 10 Latinx leaders in the media, politics, history and more.
*There are many terms used to describe or self-identify within the Hispanic community. Some terms include Latino (those of heritage from Latin American countries), Latin@ (which sees males and females as equal), and most recently, Latinx (a more inclusive and gender fluid term).
By: Leslie Arroyo
1. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (México)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is definitely a Latina to look up to. She was incredibly intelligent that some say she learned how to read by the age of three! Later on throughout her life, as her thirst for knowledge increased she begged her parents to let her disguise herself as a man to attend the university because in the 16th century, some schools in Mexico were only open to male students. After they said no she became a nun, and she wrote many inspiring feminist poems including a response in which she defended a woman’s right to learn and seek knowledge after a bishop had condemned her for seeking knowledge.
2. U.S. Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Puerto Rico)
Sonia Sotomayor without a doubt should be one of your female Latinx role models! In 2009, Sotomayor became the first Latina to sit in the U.S. Supreme Court in the history of the United States. She’s from Puerto Rico descent and attended Princeton University and later Yale Law School. She grew up in the Bronx area of New York City and persevered to be the first in her family to graduate from college. She makes me proud and all of us Latinas proud. She reminds us to continue to dream big! I encourage you to read her autobiography My Beloved World.
3. Diane Guerrero (Colombian-American)
Diane should definitely be one of your favorite Latina actresses and if not, after reading this she probably will. Diane who stars in the hit TV show Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin, is an activist for women and immigrants’ rights. When she was only fourteen-years-old she had to witness the deportation of her parents who were immigrants from Colombia. Nevertheless, Diane continued living here in the United States (Boston that is!) and continuously worked hard to get to where she is now. Props to Diane for using her platform as an actress to advocate for such important issues. You can read her journey in her book In the Country We Love.
4. Dolores Huerta (Mexican-American)
We can not go on without acknowledging the inspirational Dolores Huerta who not only brought awareness to the labor rights of farm workers in California, but also immigrants and women. Not only was she advocating for these groups but simultaneously was raising eleven children! Known for the slogan sí se puede (or yes we can), Dolores is an expert in grassroots organizing and policy work protecting laborers’ rights. For her advocacy efforts, Dolores was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former U.S. President Barack Obama making all of us Latinx proud! Make sure to check out the new documentary detailing her life and leadership in the farmworkers’ rights movement, Dolores.
5. Frida Kahlo (Mexico)
Now onto one of the most known feminist icon – Frida Kahlo. Frida was not only an amazing painter, but she also openly defied gender stereotypes and beauty standards, and wait there’s more! At the age of six, Frida was affected by polio, and at the age of 18 she was in a car crash that almost took her life and made her have her leg amputated, but nevertheless she did not let this bring her down. She instead became interested in painting and highly advocated for her work to be valued and recognized. My favorite quote from her is “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly.”
6. Celia Cruz (Cuba)
Celia Cruz is known as the Queen of Salsa. With roots hailing from Cuba, Celia sang her way across the Caribbean and to the U.S. with her most famous song La Negra Tiene Tumbao where she sings her signature word azucar (sugar). With her unique and powerful voice, Celia led the way for other Afro-Latinx women to be recognized as world-renowned artists and use music as a way of expression and empowerment.
7. Isabel Allende (Chile)
Born in Peru, fleeing from a military coup in Chile and finally settling in the U.S., Isabel Allende started her career as a journalist and is most famously known for her magical realism novels like La Casa de los Espiritus (The House of the Spirits). Allende portrays women in her novels as strong, independent and multi-dimensional characters – some which are based off real women in her life. This Chilean author is a strong political activist who actively speaks out for the advancement of gender equality and creating a safe and just system – especially in Latin America.
8. Sophie Cruz
At just five-years-old, Sophie Cruz knew the power a letter has to make a change. Cruz made headlines in 2015 when she hand-delivered a letter to the Pope asking to help stop deportations that separate families. She’s an American activist and an avid speaker. Most recently, she gave a speech at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. making her one of the youngest activists we know. Sophie Cruz proves that we can all be activists at any age.
9. Selenis Leyva (Cuba)
You probably noticed by now, but we love shows like Orange is the New Black. Actress Selenis Leyva, also a star of OITNB, hails from Cuba and has taken strong, multi-dimensional characters in film and drama. Leyva proves that a woman can play different roles and not be pigeonholed to traditional stereotypes that Latinx are often portrayed as.
10. Kamala Lopez (Indian-Venezuelan)
Passionate about the gender wage gap? So is Kamala Lopez, an actress turned filmmaker who shares a passion with all of us when it comes to equal pay for equal work. She is Indian from her mother’s side and Venezuelan from her father’s side. Lopez started the movement Equal Means Equal to raise awareness and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in U.S. Congress to protect individuals against wage discrimination despite race, gender, age, disability and more. Whatever your talent is, whether it’s acting, public speaking or filming, use it to address an issue you’re passionate about.