Celebrating Latinas for Women’s History Month

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This month, we’re celebrating women and their contributions to art, civil rights, technology, media, politics, science, and more. Without women, our society wouldn’t be what it is today, and they often don’t get the recognition they deserve. Everyone knows Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb and that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but did you know that Hedy Lamar invented the technology that’s behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth? Without women, we wouldn’t have the internet as we know it!  

Through the years, women from diverse backgrounds have made extraordinary contributions to society. Unfortunately, most of them have gone unnoticed. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the contributions of a few amazing Latinas whose impact in the US is often overlooked: 

Dolores Huerta 

Dolores Huerta is an influential civil and labor rights activist. In the 1950s, she started her career as an activist by organizing voter registration drives and fighting for economic equality for the Hispanic community. Huerta went on to co-found United Farm Workers (UFW) with César Chávez and helped lead UFW as vice-president for nearly 40 years. During that period, she strove to improve the working conditions, legislative representation, and employment benefits for agricultural workers in the U.S. She has also championed women’s rights issues, rallying for the Violence Against Women Act. Now 91, she remains an activist to this day. 

Dr. Ellen Ochoa 

Engineer, astronaut, and trailblazer for the Hispanic community, Ellen Ochoa made history in 1993 as the first Hispanic woman to go into space, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. The granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, Ochoa is co-inventor of the optical analysis systems which enable flaw inspection technology in manufacturing. She later became the first Hispanic and second female director of the Johnson Space Center, which leads international space station operations and missions. 

Faith Florez 

A descendant of farmworkers, Faith Florez is the young inventor of the Calor app, developed to keep agricultural workers safe by monitoring their health while in the fields. This innovative solution provides multiple functionalities to mitigate the risks the workers are exposed to, including training materials, a network of resources, emergency prevention, and a built-in hotline. As a teenager, Florez raised over $60,000 for the development of the software and has been able to onboard many employers willing to pay for the technology to protect their workers. 

Felisa Rincón de Gautier 

Doña Fela, as Felisa Rincón de Gautier was known, was the first woman to be elected as mayor of a city in the Americas, taking on the role in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1946. In the years leading up to this role, she championed women’s suffrage on the island. During her stint as mayor, Doña Fela focused her efforts on public welfare, working to improve housing and employment for San Juan’s vulnerable residents. She started programs that distributed goods to those in need, created centers for the elderly, and offered legal aid to low-income sectors of the population.  

Beyond breaking boundaries for women in politics, she established childcare centers designed to allow mothers to pursue formal employment beyond motherhood, which later became the model for the Head Start program in the US. Now, each year Head Start provides school readiness programs to over a million young children from low-income families through a variety of services, while also empowering parents to engage in program operations and promoting family wellbeing.  

Impressively, Doña Fela remained active in politics until the age of 95. 

Laurie Hernandez  

One of the “Final Five,” Laurie Hernandez is a gymnast and U.S. Olympic gold medalist. She is a second-generation Puerto Rican and was the youngest female competitor from the U.S. at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She was also the first Latina gymnast to represent the U.S. at the Olympics in 32 years.  

Her athletic achievements are just one aspect of her talents, as she also went on to author two books and became a vocal advocate for mental health after going public about her coach’s emotionally abusive practices.  

María Hinojosa 

A Mexican American journalist, Maria Hinojosa is the host and executive producer of Latino USA on NPR, which she helped launch in 1992. Latino USA is the longest running national Latino news and cultural public radio program. Hinojosa also founded Futuro Media Group, an independent Non-Profit organization, which is giving critical voice to the diverse American experience through multimedia journalism. An accomplished journalist, she has previously worked for CNN and PBS, and is also the author of three books. 

María Teresa Kumar 

Maria Teresa Kumar is a Colombian American political rights activist and the founding President and CEO of Voto Latino, a grassroots organization uniting and empowering the Latino community while creating a more robust and inclusive democracy. Under her leadership, Voto Latino has registered over a million Latino voters over the last decade. In 2010, Kumar and her team partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to launch the “Be Counted” campaign, which leveraged technology to encourage Latinos to participate in the U.S. Census, a key component of civic engagement. 

Pura Belpré 

Pura Belpré became the first Latina librarian in New York City in 1921. A writer and storyteller, she is credited with “bringing Spanish to the shelves.” As an advocate for Spanish speaking communities, Belpré established bilingual story hours, purchased books in Spanish, and pioneered outreach programs around Hispanic culture and holidays. In addition to breaking barriers by making the public library a welcoming place for Spanish speakers, she also actively worked to preserve Puerto Rican folklore. There is now a children’s book award in her name, which is presented annually to a Latino author whose work is deemed to best celebrate Latino heritage and experiences. 

Sylvia Rivera 

Born to Venezuelan and Puerto Rican immigrants, Sylvia Rivera was an influential LGBTQ rights activist who fought for the inclusion of transgender people, particularly people of color, in the larger gay rights movement. As a teenager she was an active participant in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. She also co-founded STAR, a group and shelter that provided support to transgender youth in New York City.  It is said that her activism played a key role in getting the “T” added to the LGBT acronym.  

This is just a short list of women whose impact has shaped our society, but there are many more who deserve to be household names. The theme for 2022’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, a campaign intended to promote a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world free of stereotypes and discrimination. While women are often not properly credited for their achievements, this is especially true for women of color. One way we can #BreakTheBias is by supporting and lifting up women across intersectional identities.  

Every day, in every corner of the U.S., Latinas are making history while taking pride in their Hispanic American Heritage by championing civil rights, pioneering innovative technologies, and exploring new frontiers. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate them. Not just in March, but year ‘round! 


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