To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and address a lack of recognition in American History books, Latinx Newswire has launched its “Celebrate Hispanic Greatness” Campaign and Quiz Contest as an educational resource for Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike. On this page, we have compiled short biographies of Latinx heroes and heroines, scientists, pioneers, entertainers, athletes, activists, artists, spiritual teachers, and leaders in all walks of life. The idea of this page is to be an educational resource that inspires Americans of all ethnicities to achieve greatness and to remind Hispanics and non-Hispanics that Latinos have been first-class Americans since the continent’s inception.
These are our heroes and heroines:
US Supreme Court Justice
In August 2009, Sonia Sotomayor, became the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice. But before that, she was the first Hispanic federal judge in New York State. And she didn’t know that she would rise so high in justice when she was a kid in the Bronx being raised by her single mom after her dad died when she was 9. She wanted to be a crime detective, like the heroine in the Nancy Drew mysteries she read. But she was discouraged from a law enforcement career because she was diabetic. She was inspired to go into law after watching Perry Mason on TV. At Princeton, she caused waves as an activist who demanded that the university hire a full-time Latino professor. In 2013, she published her memoirs, titled “My Beloved World.” On Inauguration Day 2021, Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to administer the oath of office to a U.S. President and to the first female U.S. Vice-President.
Trivia: Sotomayor became the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice to press the ceremonial button and start the 60-second Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop in 2013.
Civil Rights Activist
Inspired by the non-violent tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the sacrifices of St. Francis of Assisi, Mexican-American Cesar Chavez devoted his life to improving the working and living conditions of California and Arizona’s Hispanic and Filipino farmworkers. Chavez organized many marches and boycotts and often held hunger strikes to achieve his aims. Along with co-organizer Dolores Huerta, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Delano, California in 1962. In September 1965, Chavez joined forces with the Filipino-American labor group Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to launch a strike of California’s powerful grape grower industry. This strike lasted five years and led to a national boycott of California grapes. The successful strike and boycott achieved its aim of securing a collective bargaining agreement with grape growers, increasing worker pay, and granting them the right to organize. By 1971, the NWFA and AWOC had merged and became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) labor union. The UFW’s efforts and Chavez’s alliance with Governor Jerry Brown led to the passing of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This landmark statute — a first in U.S. history — gave farm workers the right to collective bargaining for better wages and working conditions. Recognized as an icon for workers and civil rights, Chavez’s birthday on March 31st is a federal commemorative holiday in several states. More than 120 parks, streets, libraries, and schools in the United States are named after Chavez. In 1994, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Chavez the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.
Trivia: Chavez’s longest fast in 1988 — protesting the use of pesticides on table grapes — lasted 36 days. Chavez was 61 and lost 33 pounds.
Guillermo González Camarena
Engineer and Inventor
If you watched color television this week, you can thank Mexican engineer and researcher Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena for inventing its color technology. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1917, Gonzalez Camerena was only 17 when he invented the “Chromoscopy Adapter for Television Equipment,” an early color television transmission system. Color television diffuses three black-and-white images to each of the three primary colors of light: red, green and blue (RBG). When these images merge at a sequential speed, they intermingle and produce a full-color image. Gonzalez Camarena applied for a U.S. Patent in 1940 and received it in September 1942. Gonzalez Camarena believed television should be used for educational purposes to teach literacy. He worked with Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education to create the Sistema de Educación Telesecundaria (Televised High School Educational System). Concerned that television would only be available to the wealthy, Gonzalez Camarena developed a more affordable Simplified Bicolor System, which he presented at the World Fair of New York in 1963.
Trivia: NASA used a field-sequential color television system similar to Gonzalez Camarena’s Tricolor system during its Voyager mission in 1979 to take photos and videos of Jupiter.
The Caracas-born fashion designer – who has dressed first ladies Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and Michelle Obama – was introduced to the world of haute coutoure by her socialite grandmother who bought her outfits by Dior and Lanvin. In fact, it was her high and dramatic style that caught the eyes of others and Herrera, who hung out with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol at Studio 54, first hit the International Best Dressed List in 1972 and was named to its Hall of Fame in 1980. Her friend, an editor at Vogue, suggested that she start a clothing line and her fashion empire was born. Her line is carried in 280 stores in more than 100 countries.
Trivia: By marriage, Carolina held the title The Marquise of Torre Casa, until it was retracted in 1992 because her husband had no son. They have two daughters.
Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican Major League Baseball player and power batter who played almost for almost two decades with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-72) and led them to a World Series in 1971. Clemente, a right fielder who got his 3,000th hit in his last season, was named MVP once, All-Star 12 times, batting champion four times, and Gold Glove winner 12 times. But he was known as much for his humanitarian work as for his athletic dominance. Clemente was involved in charity work in Puerto Rico and Latin America, delivering food and baseball equipment to communities in need. He was on the way to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, in fact, when his plane crashed and he died on New Year’s Eve in 1972. The next year, Clemente became the first Latin American player inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame when he was honored posthumously. And the MLB Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to the baseball player who best exemplifies the namesake’s community service.
Trivia: During the winter season of 1958, Clemente joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Colombian-born Nobel Prize-winning novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, and journalist, known affectionately as “Gabo” by his fans throughout the world, is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century. But he almost became a lawyer. He started writing for his university paper in law school and found his true calling. Before he became a prize-winning author, with six novels in addition to many short stories, Garcia Marquez was a political reporter who uncovered many scandals and rocked the Colombian government. And in 1958, he helped the coup d’etat that led to the exile of president Marcos Perez Jimenez. Trivia: In 1961, Garcia Marquez traveled the Southern United States – which he wanted to see because of the writings of William Faulkner, with his wife and baby son on a Greyhound bus. He died of pneumonia in 2014, 15 years after being diagnosed with cancer.
Trivia: Garcia Marquez’s most known book, 100 Years of Solitude, was written in 18 months.
You only know her by her first name, but Grammy-winner Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll is not only Colombian. She is also Italian, Spanish, and Lebanese, and her kaleidoscope background is what makes her music so unique. Her first name means “grateful” or “full of grace” in Arabic and she is fluent in English, Italian, and Portuguese as well as Español. Shakira grew up in Barranquilla, one of eight siblings, and started performing at age 12. She released her first álbum, Magia, at age 14. She became famous for performing in her bare feet and, in 1995, formed the Pies Descalzos Foundation to raise awareness about child development in Colombia. The organization today feeds and educates thousands of Colombian kids and a sister foundation works in places like Haiti. In 2011, Shakira became the youngest person ever to be honored with Latin Grammy’s Person of the Year award for philanthropy and contributions to music. Shakira gained even more recognition after she sang the official 2010 World Cup song, “Waka Waka,” and then sorta stole the FIFA anthem from Pit Bull and Jennifer Lopez with “La La La (Brazil 2014),” which featured a series of famous soccer players, including her longtime boyfriend Gerard Pique, with whom the Colombian rock star has had two children, Milan and Sasha. Among her achievements, Fortune Magazine called Shakira one of the “World’s Greatest Leaders” of 2017. Forbes Magazine described her as the female Latin artist who has sold the most albums in history. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in the US. By 2020, Shakira set a new world record in video streaming, becoming the only artist with the most videos (37) achieving over 100 million streams ever.
Trivial fact: Shakira was once engaged to Antonio de la Rua, son of Argentine president Fernando de la Rua.
When most people think of Jaime Escalante, they envision Edward James Olmos, who portrayed the Los Angeles high school teacher in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver. Six years prior, the Bolivian-born calculus professor gained the national spotlight when 18 of his students from a tough inner-city school passed the challenging Advanced Placement Calculus exam. There was also doubt. Students were made to take the test over again – and passed again. In the following years, even more of his students passed the national test which propelled a book about him called Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, on which the movie is based. During the mid-1990s, Escalante advocated for “English-only” policies.
Trivia: He got to meet then-President Ronald Reagan and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
José Hernández (Chef Pepin)
If you were to say you met with Jose Hernandez of Matanzas, Cuba, one might reply, “So what?” But if you mention that he is more commonly known as Chef Pepin, you might get a jaw drop. Arguably the nation’s most famous Hispanic celebrity chef, Chef Pepin has 25 years of TV experience, including regular segments on the #1 Spanish-language morning show, Despierta America, which he’s been appearing on since 1988. He’s also become the Hispanic face, or brand spokesperson, for food companies such as Sun-Maid Baking Raisins, Green Giant, Stouffer’s, Coca-Cola, Uncle Ben’s Rice, Tyson Foods and Knorr Soups.
Trivia: He is married to his high school sweetheart.
Visit this page regularly for new Hispanic/Latino/Latinx Hero and Heroine biographies!!!