During this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, YWCA USA is thrilled to highlight these Latina trailblazers for their groundbreaking contributions in the fields of advocacy, civil rights, legal, media, science and sports. After learning more about them, make sure to follow them to stay up to date on how they continue to pave the way for all women:
1. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Raised in a single parent household in the Bronx, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton, go to Yale Law School, and was appointed by President Barack Obama as America’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice after serving as a U.S. District Court Judge. Throughout her time at the Supreme Court, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor became a much-needed voice for racial equality. In her words, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
2. Maria Teresa Kumar @MariaTeresa1
Maria is a Colombian-American political rights activist, and President and CEO of the Latino Political Organization Voto Latino. In the beginning, Voto Latino’s mission was to increase voter registration among Latinos in the U.S. Later, Voto Latino partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to increase participation in the 2010 census. “To spread the word, Voto Latino and MTV’s Latino channel Tr3s aired public service announcements, created a hashtag on Twitter and established a nationwide network of bloggers”. Maria and her team also launched the ‘Be Counted’ campaign, which included a bilingual mobile phone app which enabled Latinos to fill out the 2010 census on their phones. The organization is also currently assisting Latinos in navigating the health exchanges associated with the Affordable Care Act.
3. Sister Norma Pimentel @nspimentel
Sister Normal Pimentel is a Mexican-American nun of the Missionaries of Jesus, and the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. In this role, she provides food, shelter, and other necessities to migrants entering the United States. She has been praised by Pope Francis and others for her work with refugees and immigrants to the United States, gaining international attention for her work and speaking out against family separation at the border. In 2018, she received the Hispanic Heritage Award, which is considered among the highest honors by Latinos for Latinos and is supported by 40 national Hispanic-serving institutions.
4 Diane Guerrero @dianeguerrero__
Diane is an American actress and author. She is best known for her roles as inmate Maritza Ramos on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin. Diane grew up in Boston and remained there at the age of fourteen after the rest of her family was deported to Colombia when her parents and older brother were unsuccessful in pursuing legal citizenship. She has since become a strong advocate for immigration reform and is an ambassador for the Immigration Legal Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate about issues in the immigrant community. She also became a board member for Mi Familia Vota, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to engage communities for social justice. In September 2015, she was named one of the Presidential Ambassadors for Citizenship and Naturalization by President Barack Obama.
5. Monica Ramirez @MonicaRamirezOH
Monica is an activist, author, civil rights attorney, social entrepreneur and speaker. She has been specifically engaged in direct service and advocacy on behalf of farmworkers, Latinas and immigrant women. Mónica employs a holistic, victim-centered approach to her work, and she is an ardent supporter of worker-led movements. She also has a long history of promoting women’s leadership and political power. In 2019, she received the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Leadership Award, considered among the “highest honor for Latinos by Latinos” that recognizes notable Latinos who have made a positive impact on America, and the world, in various fields.
6. Isa Noyola @muxerisa
Isa is a transgender Latina activist who currently serves as the deputy director at the Transgender Law Center, the largest trans-led organization advocating for “a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures.” In 2015, she organized the first national trans anti-violence protest that brought together over 100 activists, mostly trans women of color, to address the epidemic of violence trans communities face. Isa also founded and works as a national advocate with El/La Para TransLatinas, an organization for transgender Latinas that works to “build collective vision and action to promote survival and improve TransLatinas’ quality of life” in the San Francisco Bay Area.
7. Ellen Ochoa @Astro_Ellen
After paving the way as the first Hispanic woman in the world to go into space in 1993, Ellen also became the first Hispanic director and second female director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in 2013. In her words, “What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire—the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
8. Shakira @shakira
Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll is a Colombian singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer, actress, and philanthropist. Shakira has received numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, twelve Latin Grammy Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, thirty-nine Billboard Latin Music Awards, six Guinness World Records, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Forbes reported that as of 2018, Shakira has become the Latin artist who has sold the most albums in history. She is also ranked as the most-streamed Latin artist on Spotify and became one of only three female artists to have two YouTube videos exceeding two billion views. For her philanthropic work with her Barefoot Foundation and her contributions to music, she received the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year and Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year awards in 2011.
9. Dolores Huerta @DoloresHuerta
In 1965, Dolores created the United Farm Workers, a labor union that worked to improve the working conditions for farm workers. By leading boycotts, picketing, protesting, and grassroots engagement, Dolores was instrumental in bringing about legislation that protects some of the most vulnerable of America’s immigrant working population. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
10. America Ferrera @AmericaFerrera
America is a film/TV actress, voice actress, producer, and director. Born in Los Angeles to Honduran parents, America has actively used her platform to encourage Latinx civic engagement through her involvement with the organization Voto Latino by appearing on various news programs. America was the opening speaker for the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, and spoke at the Families Belong Together protest in June 2018. In January 2018, America was a founding member of the Time’s Up legal defense fund to support women seeking justice for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
11. Emma Gonzalez @Emma4Change
Emma Gonzalez is an American activist and advocate for gun control. As a high school senior she survived the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and in response co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD. The organization, also known by the Twitter hashtags #NeverAgain, and #EnoughIsEnough, staged protests demanding legislative action to be taken to prevent similar shootings in the future and has vocally condemned U.S. lawmakers who have received political contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA). It was credited in the Washington Post as winning a “stunning victory” against the NRA in the Florida legislature in March 2018 when both houses voted for various gun control measures. The law increased funding for school security and raised the required age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
12. Laurie Hernandez @LaurieHernandez
Laurie was the first Latina gymnast to represent the United States at the Olympics since 2004 when she competed in the U.S. team dubbed the “Final Five” at the 2016 Summer Olympics, winning gold in the team event and silver on the balance beam. Since then, she has made multiple television appearances and became a major mental health advocate after bravely opening up about her healing process since the suspension of her coach Maggie Haney for abusive practices.
13. Zoe Saldana @zoesaldana
Zoe is an actress who has worked in science fiction films beginning in 2009 with her first of multiple appearances as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek film series and her appearance as Neytiri in the Avatar film series. She also portrayed Gamora in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Due to her appearances in some of the highest-grossing films of all time, such as Avatar and Avengers: Endgame, Zoe is the second highest-grossing film actress of all time as of 2019.
14. Faith Florez @faith.florez
As a third generation Mexican-American and descendant of farmworkers, Faith conceptualized an app called Calor, which helps farmworkers combat heat stress. She continues to pilot the app and fundraise for its development, and she advocates for more tech solutions to challenges that affect the Latinx community through her Latina Legacy Foundation. Most recently, she was honored as a Three Dot Dash 2019 Global Teen Leader.
15. Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino @graceadvocates
When her middle school didn’t support her decision to publicly transition in 2013, Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino made it her mission to fight for trans students in similar situations. She has participated on boards for the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and GLAAD for LGBTQ+ education reform. Sage identifies as Afro-Latinx, and she’s served as a representative for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
16. Rita Moreno @TheRitaMoreno
Rita is a Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer. Her career has spanned over 70 years, and she is one of the few artists to have won all four major annual American entertainment awards: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. She is also one of 23 people who have achieved what is called the Triple Crown of Acting, with individual competitive Academy, Emmy, and Tony awards for acting. She has also won numerous other lifetime achievement awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
17. Jamie Margolin @jamie_Margolin
At 14, Jamie started organizing with other young people in her hometown of Seattle educating, protesting, and campaigning in the name of climate action. Her work gained momentum when she founded Zero Hour in 2017 and led a youth climate march on Washington DC. Jamie also played a role in the most recent Global Climate Strikes, and testified before Congress about the impact of growing up under the looming threat of the climate crisis.
18. Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros is a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, performer, and artist whose work explores the lives of the working-class. Her numerous awards include NEA fellowships in both poetry and fiction, the Texas Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur Fellowship, several honorary doctorates and national and international book awards, including Chicago’s Fifth Star Award, the PEN Center USA Literary Award, and the National Medal of the Arts award presented to her by President Obama in 2016. In addition to her writing, Cisneros has fostered the careers of many aspiring and emerging writers through two non-profits she founded: the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation.
19. Soledad O’Brien @soledadobrien
María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien is an American broadcast journalist and executive producer. Since 2016, O’Brien has been the host for Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, a nationally syndicated weekly talk show produced by Hearst Television. She is chairwoman of Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production company and distributor that she founded in 2013. O’Brien anchored a CNN special, Black in America, in July 2007. The program documented the successes, struggles, and complex issues faced by black men, women and families 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2009, O’Brien completed a documentary titled Latino In America, documenting the lives of Latinos living in America.
20. Joan Baez @joancbaez
“We shall overcome,” sang Joan Baez, legendary folk singer, at the March on Washington for civil rights in 1963. “We are not afraid today, oh deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome someday.” Joan is a passionate spokesperson for the anti-war effort, a civil rights activist, and a powerful singer-songwriter. Baez has performed publicly for over 60 years, releasing over 30 albums.
YWCA USA extends a huge thank you to these women for leading the way for future generations of trailblazers. Thank you for standing with us to do the work until injustice is rooted out, until institutions are transformed, and until justice, just is.