Hispanic heroes

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Hispanic Heritage Month: 15 Hispanic Heroes to Honor

Hispanic Heritage Month: 15 Hispanic Heroes to Honor

Not all heroes wear capes
Hispanic heroes

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Every fall from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Americans celebrate the contributions of U.S. citizens, residents and communities with Mexican, Caribbean, South and Central American and Spanish heritage. The following 15 historic and modern-day artists, activists, performers and pioneers have all made waves in their respective fields. They deserve to be honored year-round.

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor

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In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as the 111th Justice of the Supreme Court, the first-ever Hispanic and first Latina woman to carry the title. Born to Puerto Rican parents living in New York City public housing, Sotomayor learned from her mother the power of education. She was her high school valedictorian and graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University before setting off on a three-decade-long law career.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

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Ellen Ochoa joined NASA in 1988. Two years later, she received a ground-breaking job promotion from research engineer to astronaut. Aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to travel to space. Four missions later, Ochoa’s hours in orbit now total nearly 1,000.

Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente

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After finding initial success as a teen in Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente played his entire MLB career as a Pittsburgh Pirate. In 1972, after a 12-year string of consecutive Gold Glove seasons, Clemente was killed in a plane crash. He was en route to Nicaragua to assist in earthquake relief efforts. Clemente was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a year later.

Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez

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In 1944, 8-year-old Sylvia Mendez was denied admission to 17th Street School in California. She was told to enroll in a nearby underfunded “Mexican school” instead.  In response, her parents and others filed a class-action lawsuit against four area school districts. The court ruled in Mendez’s favor, granting her admission to the 17th Street School and setting the stage for Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Sophie Cruz

Sophie Cruz

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Sophie Cruz, then 5 years old, made national headlines in 2015 for hand-delivering a letter to Pope Francis during a Washington, D.C. motorcade. In the letter, Cruz asked that the Pope lend his support to U.S. immigration reforms that would ensure the safety of her undocumented parents. Since then, Cruz has met with President Barack Obama, spoken at the Women’s March on Washington and continued advocating for reform.

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz

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Raised in Havana, Cuba, “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz was one of few women of her time to find fame in the male-dominated salsa scene. She incorporated African influences into her dress, music and performance in ways her contemporaries did not and captivated the world with her unmatched voice and candy-colored wardrobe.

Juan Gabriel

Juan Gabriel

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Juan Gabriel, “JuanGa” for short, wrote over 1,500 songs and sold more than 100 million albums during his lifetime. Adored by fans across his native Mexico, the U.S. and the world, Gabriel bucked gender expectations. His mass popularity, beloved ballads and performances broke barriers across the Latin music industry and left a lasting mark on the Latino LGBTQ community

César Chávez

César Chávez

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As a second-generation migrant farmworker, César Chávez was subject and witness to unjust working conditions, treatment and pay on American farms. Chávez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 after years of organizing work. As a leader, he championed several worker victories by organizing weeks-long hunger strikes, marches and boycotts.

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta

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Co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, Dolores Huerta was originally a teacher before entering her decades-long career in activism. Alongside Chávez and other organizers, Huerta played a key role in passing monumental worker protections. She challenged gender bias within the farmworkers’ movement and has since called for more women and Latinas in political office.

Mónica Ramírez

Mónica Ramírez

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As co-founder of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworkers Women’s Alliance), Mónica Ramírez has long advocated against gender-based violence, sexual harassment and exploitation in U.S. fields. In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Ramírez drafted a letter in support of the affected Hollywood actors. The letter was signed on behalf of 700,000 female farmworkers.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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The son of a Puerto Rican mother and Haitian father, Jean-Michel Basquiat dropped out of high school at 17 and within a few years skyrocketed to the highest echelon of New York art society. He participated in his first public exhibition in 1980 but got his start painting graffiti on subway cars and other city surfaces. Through his art, Basquiat mixed styles, as well as African, Caribbean and American culture. 

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

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As a young boy in the Bronx, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez read lots of comics. Now, he writes them. His biggest success has come from “La Boriqueña,” an Afro-Latina undergrad-student turned superhero. Marisol Rios De La Luz lives in New York but draws her superhuman powers of flight, strength and weather control from the mysticism of Puerto Rico.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

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One of history’s most pioneering women, Frida Kahlo took up painting as a means to recover after a near-fatal bus accident. Throughout her life, she painted over 140 paintings including 55 self-portraits. A feminist and LGBTQ icon, Kahlo mixed aspects of Mexican mythology, varying religions and cultures into her art. Her paintings offer a glimpse into her painful physical and psychological reality.

Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo

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Dominican American poet and novelist Elizabeth Acevedo learned the art of storytelling from her father, mother and grandfather. In her award-winning and best-selling poetry and prose, Acevedo explores themes of self-acceptance and identity. Her 2018 novel “The Poet X” is a certified New York Times bestseller and won several awards including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

José Andrés

José Andrés

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World-renowned Spanish-American chef José Andrés founded World Central Kitchen in 2010. The non-profit set out to end hunger and poverty in communities, and following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, World Central Kitchen fed 3.6 million people. During the coronavirus pandemic, World Central Kitchen has continued safely distributing meals to families in need.  

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