7 Influential Latinas Who Have Made Huge Contributions to Society
Check out these Latina activists and astronauts in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
To be Latina is to be relentless; to be underestimated; to be proud and poderosa.
Every year since 1968, Americans have observed National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of Latinos from all over.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, Global Citizen is celebrating some of the most influential Latinas of our time — from civil rights activists to astronauts to journalists. Some have inspired corridos (ballads) and murals, others rally cries, and still others entire movements.
They’ve rewritten the rules for thousands of young Latinas and taught them that no matter the obstacle, “si se puede.”
Here are seven Latinas making the world a better place:
Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist
While teaching grammar school, Dolores Huerta noticed that many of her students showed up to class ill or malnourished. Her students’ strife inspired her to begin her lifelong crusade of correcting economic injustice.
In 1962, the union leader and activist co-founded the first successful farm workers union in the United States, calling it the United Farm Workers. Since then, Huerta has played a critical role in many of the union’s accomplishments, often risking her own life to ensure farmers’ rights. In addition to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, Huerta has become an icon in the Latino community where her phrase, “Si se puede,” is a popular, rallying cry for thousands across the US.
Ellen Ochoa, astronaut
Ellen Ochoa made history in 1993 when she boarded the space shuttle Discovery, thus becoming the first Latina astronaut to go to space. A pioneer in the field of spacecraft technology, she would later become the first Latina (and second female) director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Ochoa has spent a total of 978 hours in space, and has at least three different inventions patented today.
Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice
In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latino in history to be elected to the bench of the Supreme Court. She’s inspired a whole generation of Latinos after reaching one of the highest positions in American justice.
She has also served as an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law and a lecturer at Columbia Law School.
Rigoberta Menchú, human rights activist
Since the early 1980s, Menchú has been educating indigenous people on ways they could stand up against oppression and fight for their rights. An indigenous Guatemalan herself, she has been championed as human rights activist and labor leader by the community she’s dedicated her life to protecting.
In 1992, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for her work with social justice.
Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile
Bachelet is Chile’s current president and the country’s first-ever female to hold office.
In 1975, she was imprisoned at the notorious Villa Grimaldi interrogation center in the capital of Santiago for being a dissident during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. For a month she was tortured both physically and psychologically, and threatened with execution, before she was sent into exile.
She also served as the head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and fights for indigenouspeoples’ rights as president.
Shakira, singer, dancer, producer
Shakira’s musical success is a given. But what’s lesser known about the Colombian singer is her commitment to charity. The“Hips Don’t Lie” singer is also a UNICEF ambassador and has committed to making a global impact for the less fortunate.
While her music career has continued to flourish, Shakira has continued to stay humble. Through her foundation, Pies Descalzos, she has raised millions to improve the quality of education in her hometown of Barranquilla, and throughout Latin America.
Soledad O’Brien, broadcast journalist and executive producer
Award-winning journalist, O’Brien is the anchor for a nationally-syndicated weekly political show, “Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien.”
Over the course of her career, she’s appeared as an anchor and correspondent for MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera America, and HBO. In 2013, she started her own multi-platform media production company, Starfish Media Group.
O’Brien is certainly not the first Latina broadcast journalist, but she is one of the most influential voices in the media conversation about Latinos nationwide.