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Shattering Stereotypes: The Latinas Who Changed the World

posted March 14, 2019 | in Soy Latina by Rita J. Olivares Cervantes

International Women’s Month has begun and while it may have seemed like it was just one day, we are here to celebrate it throughout the month of March—el mes de la mujer. Mujeres who have influenced us; mujeres that empower us and mujeres who have marked our lives with their compassion and resilience to push the boundaries and break the glass ceiling. Throughout history, time and time again, women have redefined and challenged their stereotypes. Listed below are some of the most influential, remarkable and admirable Latinas whose success and triumphant spirits we celebrate this month and throughout history:

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta. Photo sourced from Wikipedia.

If you ever feel outrage over the circumstances of our nation, let Dolores Huerta’s iconic “Si se puede!” lift your spirits up to become an activist against the injustices facing you and your community. This iconic phrase emerged during a strike in Arizona with the organization she co-founded, United Farm Workers of America union, and has since become a staple phrase that even Barack Obama used in his 2008 presidential campaign. Huerta helped rally up the agricultural workers who were working in miserable conditions and became the lead organizer as detailed in her NPR interview.

Her unwavering pride and spirit surpassed the snide comments made by reporters who critiqued her motherhood and called her hard-working activism “adventures.” She used it to better point out the necessity of early education for all children so that not only could they have better quality of education but women, mostly the main supporters of a household, could be part of civic life, run for office and add feminist perspectives over decisions being made. Dolores Huerta continues to advocate for the agricultural workers through her Dolores Huerta Foundation and her strong and unwavering ethic continue to inspire many across the nation.

Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno. Photo sourced from Wikipedia.

Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony—shE’s GOT (haha get it?) it all! The vivacious Rita Moreno sets the record as the first ever Latina to earn all four of the major American entertainment awards. She owes her success to her parents as she says in an interview with Times Magazine: “I have a feeling that remarkable women very often have remarkable parents.”

Born and raised in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, Moreno speaks of the fault in showbusiness of only letting Latina actresses play the “native girls” with thick accents. Because of the anger she felt toward this limiting opportunity, she began to actively push the boundaries as a Latina actress and obtain other roles that did not necessarily fall under those old stereotypes. This led her to become the pioneer for, not only Latinas, but also, all aspiring Latino actors and actresses to fight for the roles they desired to play and not the ones based on stereotypical ideals. Rita Moreno’s incredible talent has made us laugh, cry and feel a part of every story she wishes to portray.

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor. Photo sourced from Wikipedia.

Women always leave an unforgettable mark in history and that is exactly what Sonia Sotomayor has done in becoming the first Latina in history to form part of the Supreme Court in 2009. Raised by two Boricuas who wanted the best education for their children, Sotomayor self-disciplined herself in her education to rise to the top of her class throughout high school and college.

She has defended affirmative action against those who attempt to strip away this law that has allowed many minorities to have equal higher education opportunities. Her “Latina soul and heart, with the magic that it carries”, as she says in the Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, has successfully led her to accomplish anything she has set her mind to do and continues making the Latinx community proud.

Gloria Anzaldua

By K. Kendall – originally posted to Flickr as Gloria Anzaldua, CC BY 2.0,

We did not cross the border—the border crossed us. As Latinos begin to be part of the majority in the United States, we cannot deny the American side that we have always carried and that is something Gloria Anzaldua has always written and theorized about. Native to the Texas Rio Grande Valley, Anzaldua was born to Mexican immigrants and largely spoke about her identity as a mestiza and queer Latina. She believed that the border was not only a physical manifestation but a psychological one as well as detailed in a Study Breaks article.

Her work continues to be relevant today as seen with the conflicts happening now at the border and how the border continues being an open wound due to the anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric. Anzaldua’s work has served to guide the many Mexican Americans and other Latino Americans to find that fluidity between being too much of one identity for the other. Her border theories continue to be relevant with border conflicts as well as helping us understand ourselves and each other a little better.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Official Portrait. Sourced from Wikipedia.

Life can hit us in many ways and our reaction to those hits can take us in different directions. For Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, coming from a low socioeconomic background and the loss of a parent, pushed her to work her way up to be a fierce Latina as she explains in an interview with The New Yorker.

She has made a name for herself with the American public, government and media, as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the 14th precinct of New York City. As the youngest Latina and woman to ever hold such position, Ocasio-Cortez is already building a solid reputation through her advocacy and passion for her position.

She has made strides at the Hill with her unyielding passion for justice to call out the inequity and corruption that has wormed its way into our government. Her tenacious attitude is to be admired and celebrated as she continues to break barriers each day and give the old Capitol a good shake-up through her eloquent and striking words.

Dafne Almazan

Dafne Almazon.
Photo sourced from Mario Guzmán (Efe) for LeoNoticias.

Having passion for what you love to do can take you many places and that is the truth for 17-year old Dafne Almazan. She’s a young Mexicana recently accepted into the graduate program for mathematics at Harvard University. This young Latina has not only broken the record for being the youngest psychologist according to an article in Remezcla, but she has now become the youngest Mexican student to be admitted into the graduate program of mathematics in over 100 years at Harvard University.

Her passion to change the way we talk and think about young geniuses has led her to pursue a degree that many would find rigorous, but she has gracefully accepted that challenge for the betterment of her community.

Latinas will forever be known as the zealously empowering women that defy expectations in new and original ways. Para estas mujeres y para todas la mujeres, we celebrate you and are excited to see you continue running the world in your own compelling way.

Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, University of Texas senior Rita J. Olivares Cervantes will be receiving her B.A. in English Literature and Language as well as Mexican American and Latina/o Studies this May. Her passion and pride for her Mexican roots are what continuously guide her as she writes for the preservation of our antepasados. She hopes to one day become a published author and help bring out the beauty of her culture and people.