12 Latin Figures that Should be Mentioned in Textbooks

by Vy Nguyen

Like really, really should be.

Sylvia Rivera

1

One of the leading figures of the Gay Liberation Movement in the 60s. She was a monumental LGBT+ activist who advocated for trans rights and the inclusion of drag queens. She focused on intersectional LGBT+ activism and fought for queer people of color and low-income, especially during the AIDS epidemic, as someone who suffered from systematic poverty and racism. She and Marsha P. Johnson founded the organization Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) that offered resources and service to homeless queer youth, and fought for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York. at the Millennium March in 2000, she was cheered as the “mother of all gay people”.

Luis Miramontes

2

When he was only 26 years old, Luis Miramontes successfully synthesized norethisterone, the progestin used in one of the first three oral contraceptives. His invention was included in the top 40 most important registered inventions between 1794 and 1964, honoring him next to other monumental scientists such as Pasteur, Edison, Bell, and the Wright brothers. It was also chosen as the twentieth most important discoveries of all time by SCENTA, an initiative of the Engineering and Technology Board of the United Kingdom. The Mexican Academy of Sciences recognized Miramontes’ invention as Mexico’s most important contribution to world science ever.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latin Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Barack Obama in May 2009 and confirmed that August. Graduating summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976, she acquired her J.D from Yale Law School where she was an editor at the Yale Law Journal. She was nominated to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York by President Bush in 1991, then by President Clinton to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1997. In the Roberts Court that is leaning towards conservativeness, Sotomayor supported the informal liberal bloc and had drafted key dissents on race, gender, and ethnic identity, in cases such as Utah v. Strieff and Trump vs. Hawaii.

Roberto Clemente

4

During his life, Afro-Latino baseball player Roberto Clemente had achieved a lot and led the way for many other Latins with the same passion, being regarded as the “patron saint of Latin* baseball”. He was an All-Star for twelve seasons and won the Gold Glove Award for twelve consecutive seasons. He was also an active philanthropist for the Latin American and Carribean community and raised thousands of dollars for Nicaragua, however, passed away in a deadly plane crash while delivering the aid. Three months after his death, he was posthumously elected for induction into the Hall of Fame, becoming the first Latino player receiving this honor.

Marielle Franco

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Marielle Franco was a Brazilian politician, feminist, and human rights activist. As a black woman and single mother who come from a low-income community, she represented herself as a defender of and actively advocated for poor black women and people from the favelas of Brazil. She was the chair of the Women’s Defense Commission and brought out a bill to introduce a day of lesbian visibility in Rio de Janeiro. Despite her violent death as a result of police brutality, Franco’s achievements left an impact on Brazil and its support of LGBT+ rights, feminism, and the fight against police brutality.

Octaviano Larrazolo

6

Originally a civil rights lawyer, Octaviano Larrazolo’s focus had always been on rights for the Hispanic community for his entire political career. He worked majorly on the protection of Hispanic community by the state of New Mexico  In 1910, he gave a monumental speech on the exploitation of Hispanic voters in New Mexico that forced both Republicans and Democrats to face the injustice faced by Hispanics in the state. He quickly became one of the most vocal leaders at the time and soon climbed up the political ladder, being elected as the governor of New Mexico in 1918, a member of the New Mexico State House of Representatives in 1927, and a US Senator in 1928, making him the first Latin in American history to acquire this position.

Rita Moreno

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In her long career of more than seventy years, the Puerto Rican actress is most known for her supporting roles in musical films such as The King and I and West Side Story. She and Helen Hayes are the only two artists who have won all four major annual American entertainment awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, and achieved the Triple Crown of Acting for winning individual Academy, Emmy, and Tony awards. She is also the receiver of multiple lifetime achievement awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

Guillermo González Camarena

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At the very young age of 17, Camarena invented the “Chromoscopic Adapter for Television Equipment”, a transmission system that added color to black-and-white television, thus became the inventor of color television. He sold his first set in 1954 for about $1,450, which would be around $14,000 in 2019. He made the first public color broadcast in Mexico on February 8, 1963, Paraíso Infantil, on his own station XHGC-TV.

Ellen Ochoa

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Ellen Ochoa is the first Latin woman in the world to go in space in July 1991. She served on four missions in total and logged in nearly 1,000 hours in space. At Ames Research Center, she was the Chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch and led a team of 35 engineers and scientists in researching and developing computational systems for aerospace missions. Ochoa is also the first Latin and 2nd woman director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and currently holds many other executive positions, including the Vice Chair of the National Science Board for the 2018-2020 term and the chair of the committee evaluating nominations for the National Medal for Technology and Innovation. She has been recognized with multiple honorable awards, including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award. 

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales

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Perhaps most well-known for his poem “Yo Soy Joaquín”, or “I Am Joaquín” that confronted the oppression of Chicano Americans and cultural multiplicity, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was one of the founders and key leaders of the Chicano movement. He had led Mexican Americans in their battle for equality, including union rights, adequate access to education and voting rights. He facilitated the first Chicano youth conference in March 1969, an inspiring landmark for many future Chicano activists and artists and the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, a manifesto calling for Chicano self-determination. He founded Crusade for Justice, a civil rights and cultural organization that supported Hispanic Americans. 

Sylvia Mendez

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It was the 1946 case Mendez v. Westminster, in which parents of eight-year-old Sylvia Mendez sued several school districts in California for denying Mendez’s enrollment due to her ethnicity, that paved the way for the historic success of Brown v. Education. A direct victim of de jure segregation, Mendez was instrumental to the success of the case and became an icon of the current fight for desegregation. The outcome of the case not only made Mendez and her siblings the first Latins to attend an all-white school in California, but also deeply influenced the California governor at the time, Earl Warren, who would later became the Chief Justice that ruled the Brown case. Mendez is now a civil rights activist and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Ralph Lazo

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(Lazo is the far right in the middle row)

Ralph Lazo spent most of his life dedicating to the Japanese-American community. When he was only a seventeen-year-old highschooler at Belmont High School, upon learning of the forced removal of his Japanese American friends as a result of the Japanese American Internment, he decided to voluntarily enter the internment camps with his friends in May 1942. He spent two years living there and was the only non-Japanese person who was not the spouse of a resident detainee.

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