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13 Latina Women that Have Changed History & Broken Barriers

In honor of this Hispanic Heritage Month, let's look back on the contributions, influences, and achievements of the Latina women that came before us. Here are my personal top thirteen women that were trailblazers. But of course, there are so many others changing history as we speak.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

She was the first Latina to serve in the United States Congress. During her forty-year career, she served in the Florida Senate, moved her way up as the first Latina to serve in the US House of Representatives, then served in Congress. She is also known for being the first woman to be the chair of a regular standing committee in  the House. Over her career, she helped introduce and pass legislation that primarily focused on human rights, and helped countless Hispanics and minorities across the U.S. 

 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

She is the youngest woman and Latina to ever serve in the United States Congress. Elected in 2018, she’s faced discrimination for her age and the way she dresses, but doesn’t let any of that get in the way of speaking the mind of the younger generation and making a greater change in legislation and representation in politics. She’s informed, hands-on with using social media as her voice, is in tune with her constituents, and is currently changing the norm  that political offices must be held by  older white males. AOC paved the way for “Indigenous, queer, Muslim, Black and women candidates are now represented in greater numbers than ever before” during the midterm elections last fall according to nationalinterest.org.  As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said herself, “The biggest hurdle that our communities have is cynicism - saying it's a done deal, who cares; there's no point to voting. If we can get somebody to care, it's a huge victory for the movement and the causes we're trying to advance,” because “Change takes courage.”

Catherine Cortez Masto 

As the first Latina Senator in U.S. history, over her years of service, she’s focused on solving issues such as the housing crises, sex trafficking, women’s healthcare, immigration, gender equality pay, and environmental issues such asthe need for renewable energy services. She’s been progressive in introducing and helping pass legislation in these areas for the better, especially to create more resources for them. Catherine Cortez Masto said herself, “I will use my seat at the table to fight for diversity.” 

Sonia Sotomayor

She was the first Latina to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Nominated by former Democratic president, Barack Obama, she was appointed to her seat on the Supreme Court in 2009. A few major rulings she has been a part of so far have been King V. Burwell, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Utah v. Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr. Dissent, according to Biography.com. She’s been on the side of diversityand made it illegal for unlawful search and seizure warrants of minorities, made healthcare more affordable, made the government provide subsidies, and helped make same-sex marriage legal in 50 states. Pushing for diversity has always been on her agenda. According to Sonia Sotomayor, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Antonia Coello Novello

She is the first woman and Latina to serve as Surgeon General in the U.S. from 1990 to1993. “As Surgeon General, Dr. Novello advised the public on health matters such as smoking, AIDS, diet and nutrition, environmental health hazards, and the importance of immunization and disease prevention.” according to naaonline.org. Women’s and pediatric health issues were important to her during her career. When she finished serving as Surgeon General, she went on to work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help advise on issues regarding women, children, and youth surrounding health and nutrition. Overall, she has made an impact on countless lives and has won many medical awards over the years. 

Ellen Ochoa

She is the first Latina astronaut to go into space in 1993 as an SDSU graduate. She then went on to do three additional flights with a total of 1,000 hours logged of time in space, where she conducted crucial research on the Earth’s ozone layers. This has led her to become described as  “the first Hispanic director, and second female director, of the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas”, according to Google Arts & Culture.

Gabriela Mistral

She is the first Latina author to win a Nobel Peace Prize in literature. Best known for her poetry that spread widely across Latin America, The themes she delved in were romance, love, her childhood, and maternity. She received her Nobel Peace Prize "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world," according to nobelprize.org.

Maria Elena Salinas

She is the first Latina journalist to win a lifetime achievement, Emmy award, and has spent over thirty years on the T.V. screens as a voice and advocate for the Spanish community. She was the longest-running female anchor alongside co-anchor, Jorge Ramos on the program “Noticiero Univision.” During the time of her career, she was an active philanthropist, activist, and covered issues affecting Latinos today. She took it to heart to get to know the various Hispanic communities and serve them. She once said,, “...as long as I have a voice, I will always use it to speak on their behalf.”

Rita Moreno 

She is the first and only Latina to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and a Golden Globe Awards.  She has been on countless projects, films, shows, and more and has broken many on-screen barriers. She said in a Time’s interview, “No one’s going to tell me how to make my own choices. For too many years, everybody told me what to say and what to do and how to be.”

Carolina Herrera

She is a fashion designer and entrepreneur that has been bringing Latina fashion into the mainstream spotlight since the early 70s where she has been featured in VOGUE multiple times. She then went on in 2008 to be awarded the “Lifetime Achievement award” from the Council of Fashion Designer of America, according to Latina.com. She’s brought class and femininity to high fashion and has inspired countless Latina’s across the world. Something you may not know about her is she dresses and designs outfits for first ladies over the years. Including Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama, and a few others, according to reuters.com.

Selena Quintanilla

She was a Mexican-American singer and pop star who was an icon, ultimately achieving mainstream success. Unfortunately, her career was short-lived but regardless, she inspired countless latinas. Selena, Rita Moreno, Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez have been the few who have successfully crossed over to mainstream media. Some of Selena Quintanilla’s most well known songs are ‘Bidi Bidi Bom Bom’, ‘I Could Fall in Love’, ‘No Me Queda Más’, and ‘Como La Flor’. 

Frida Kahlo

She is the  Mexican artist most well known for her artwork and series of self portraits that delved into issues such as  identity, the human body, sexuality, infertility, spirituality, religion, and political ideas. Many of her themes derived from her pain and tragic past of an accident that left her bed-ridden as well as the time period she lived in during the Mexican Revolution. She became famous because of her portraits and portrayal of reality, through surrealism and a Mexican folk art style. 

Gina Rodriguez

She is most known for her breakout role of Jane on the CW show, “Jane the Virgin.” Her show helped bring telenovela tropes and hispanic familial identity to modern American television. According to CNN Opinion, “Its telenovela format naturally and seamlessly weaves into a bilingual script honest stories about family, faith, work, the fears of undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families and other social issues, traditions around food, dance and other entertainment, and most of all, love.” Overall, the show helped bring Spanish culture into American homes. It has started social discussions as well as raised cultural awareness. With that being said, as the lead in the show, Gina Rodriguez changed many Latina’s lives and serves as an inspiration that Hollywood and on-screen representation can and will continue to change by women of color. 

Angel Jimenez studies Journalism at Arizona State University with a minor in Studio Art. She is passionate about storytelling and pays great attention to her work. Angel's other hobbies include creating art. In her free time, she loves to drink a cup of coffee or hot chocolate with her friends.
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