These Latina Muses Will Reinspire You And Remind You How Incredible We Really Are
In media, Latinas have been stereotypically cast as housekeepers or spicy vixens — which is extremely frustrating because we know we are much more than that. We know from our own experience that Latinas have a history of breaking barriers on a wide range scale. If you or your little nieces need a reminder or how powerful Latinas really are, here are nine Latinas who have made history and continue to inspire us:
When my mom would catch me daydreaming, she used to snap at me and say “¡estás en la luna!” which makes me wonder if Ellen Ochoa’s mom used to say that to her because Ellen ended up making it into outer space. In 1993, the Los Angeles-born Mexican-American became the first Latina to go to space. But her legacy doesn’t end there. In 2013 she became the first Latina and second female director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, furthermore paving the way not only for women of color but also for women of color in STEM.
Nuyorican Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina Justice in history and the definition of perseverance. She was raised in a single-parent household in which only limited English was spoken. She then went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton before going on to Yale Law School. She worked her way from District Court Judge to becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. At the time of her swearing-in, people criticized her for wearing red nails and red lips but little did they know that she was inspiring another politically savvy Latina to showcase her Latina pride…
Sylvia Rivera is one of those silent sheroes that we didn’t learn about in school. The Venezuelan-Boricua trans woman made a huge impact in LGBTQ rights. In fact, she is often credited as the person responsible for making sure the T is present in LGBTQ. As if that weren’t already a lot to accomplish, it is believed she started the infamous Stonewall Riot with Marsha P. Johnson that launched LGBTQ rights movement in the 1960s. Her story is truly remarkable and you can learn all about her here.
Lovingly nicknamed AOC, the youngest Congresswoman ever constantly reminds us never to take shit from anyone and to display our Latinidad with pride. The former bartender started her political career as an organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. The then 28-year-old left the Bronx, New York to help marginalized communities like Flint, Michigan. Then, in May of 2017, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out Rep. Joe Crowley, who hadn’t faced a challenger in 14 years, to become the U.S Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district and youngest member of congress. When she was sworn in, she honored Sonia Sotomayor by proudly rocking a bold red lip and gold hoop earrings reminding a new wave of Latinas and women that we do not need to apologize for who we are.
For many of us, hearing Selena speak English during interviews and sing en Español was the first time we really connected with a celebrity who was Mexican-American — like us. Millions of music fans were lured in by her incredible vocals and seamless dance moves. In 1993 she went on to win a Grammy Award which just validated her talents to the rest of the music industry. However, we Latinos connected with her on a closer, more emotional level. She represented the same family values and her inviting smile and loud laugh she made us feel like we knew her on a personal and familial level. The life of the Tex-Mex queen was taken in 1995, prompting the world to mourn her death for decades to come. Her memory lives on in her music, museum, clothing line and products that have been released in her memory. Perhaps the most significant project to carry her memory was the “Selena” movie which also helped propel another star…
Jennifer Lopez became a household name after starring in the role of a lifetime playing the life of Selena in the biopic of the same name. “Selena” was J.Lo’s first lead role (????) and this not only gave her worldwide recognition, but also made her the first Latina actress to earn over $1 million for a film. The Nuyorican used this new fame to set off a handful of other businesses and projects like a fashion line and dozens of albums making her the ultimate triple-threat pop star. And if you’ve ever used Google Images, you have J.Lo and that infamous Versace dress to thank. People couldn’t get enough of that plunging neckline at the 2000 Grammy Awards that everyone took to Google to try to snag another look at the dress. Google’s Executive Chairman went on to explain that this surge in interest would later lead to the invention of the Google image search. In 2012, Forbes magazine regarded her as the world’s most powerful celebrity in the world. Most powerful celebrity in the world, not even the most powerful Latina. Let that sink in. In 2020 she paved the way yet again as she and Shakira headlined the Super Bowl halftime performance.
We all know Celia Cruz as the Queen of Salsa, but to work her way up to the thrown, the Afro-Cubana had to leave everyone and everything behind in Cuba after Fidel Castro came into power. Some of us, or some of our parents know, that leaving your homeland is not easy by any means but Celia Cruz gave Cuban exiles and their experience a voice and a rallying cry. Her career started when even against her father’s wishes, she would sing at cabarets. Her father’s strong opposition to her career as a singer took over for a minute and she started attending school to become a literature teacher. Eventually her passion for music would drive her to become one of the most important singers in the world. Celia Cruz was exhaled from her beloved Cuba by Fidel Castro and was not allowed to enter her home country. She brought her talents to the United States where she established herself as an icon winning countless Grammy Awards and accolades. During a trip to Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. territory in Cuba, she gathered Cuban soil and brought it back with her to the U.S. That same soil was buried with her in 2003 after dying from brain cancer at the age of 77.
Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar is the true rags to riches story. Now known to us as Cardi, the Afro-Latina and her family grew up in the South Bronx and spent a lot of time with her paternal grandfather in Washington Heights. And when we say her story is a rags to riches story, we mean it. She didn’t grow up wealthy by any means and she joined the Bloods when she was 16 years old. She got her first job in a supermarket in Lower Manhattan. Her manager then fired her several years later and told her she should become a stripper. Her next thought must’ve been “damn right” because when she was 19, she started stripping and says doing so saved her life. She was in an abusive relationship and this new occupation gave her financial independence. Cardi used some of her stripping money to go back to community college and officially retired early and jumped into her next career venture, “Love & Hip Hop”. Here, she became known as the hot-tempered loud mouth of the group but she did use her voice and platform to educate people on what it means to be Afro-Latina. On the show she also launched her rapping career and officially took herself to riches.
The now-famous Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, was not appreciated during her time and simply known as Diego Rivera’s wife. She was a visionary artist born on July 6th, 1907 and passed on July 13, 1954. She lived a short, but eventful, 47 years of life. While Kahlo lived in Paris, New York and San Francisco, Kahlo is known for being fiercely proud of her Mexican heritage. Frida was in a terrible accident when she was 18 years old that caused her tremendous pain and often became the focal point of her artwork. She was boarding a bus with her boyfriend when the bus collided with a train and burst into a thousand pieces and sent a handrail through her torso. While bedridden, Frida Kahlo began painting documenting her painful recovery process. After a trip to Paris where she fell in love with an openly bisexual female singer, Frida also became a queer and feminist icon who loved to wear suits. Today, her art which explored ahead-of-her-time questions of gender, identity has resonated with the masses around the world.
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