The Monthly Climb September - Hispanic Heritage Month
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place annually from September 15th to October 15th to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans. The timing of this month-long celebration coincides with five Latin American Independence Days–Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua–all on September 15th. Additionally, the independence days for Mexico, Chile, and Belize also fall within the National Hispanic Heritage Month on September 16th, 18th, and 21st, respectively. In honor of this month, we would like to recognize important hispanic figures, past and present.
Cesar Chavez was a prominent civil rights activist, labor organizer, and union leader who dedicated his life to improving treatment, pay, and working conditions for farm workers. Born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona, Chavez and his family toiled in the fields as migrant farm workers. Chavez moved on to serve in the United States Navy for two years before moving to California and marrying Helen Fabela Chavez. During this time Chavez helped laborers register to vote through the Community Service Organization and eventually became the CSO’s national director. In 1962, Chavez left CSO to co-found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Hueta.
Chavez began organizing strikes, pickets, and other nonviolent protest tactics among farmworkers to bring attention to their plight and pressure farm owners into granting the strikers’ demands. One of which was a five year long strike against California’s grape growers alongside AWOC, a Filipino labor group called the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee, in September 1965. After the grape strike and boycott ended, the NWFA and AWOC merged to become the United Farm Workers labor union, or UFW. He received support from labor and leftist groups and in the early 1970’s, Chavez sought to expand UFW’s influence outside California by opening branches in other states. Thanks to the UFW’s efforts, California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act which gave all farm workers the right to unionize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions. On April 23, 1993, Chavez died in his sleep at the age of 66, a year before he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Today, Cesar Chavez’s birthday is a federal commemorative holiday that celebrates the birth and legacy of the civil rights and labor movement activists.
Dolores Huerta is an activist and labor leader, who began working in the 50s to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and fight against discrimination. Dolores was born in Dawson, New Mexico in 1930. Like many Hispanic and Latine people, Dolores grew up experiencing racism and discrimination. In 1955, she and Fred Ross started the Stockton chapter of Community Service Organization (CSO) which worked to end segregation, discrimination, and police brutality and sought to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers. In 1960, Huerta started the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA). Her organization set up voter registration drives and lobbied politicians to allow non-citizen migrant workers to receive public assistance, pension, and provide Spanish-language voting ballots and driver’s tests — during which time she met Cesar Chavez, a fellow CSO official.
Huerta and Chavez lobbied the CSO to include work on farm workers rights, but the organization was mainly focused on urban issues, so both left to follow those efforts. They, along with Gilbert Padilla, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Later the AWA and NFWA combined and became the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, now called the United Farm Workers (UFW). She worked on creating better working conditions for farm workers, helped the passage of the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations act, which was the first law to recognize the rights of farm workers to bargain collectively. She served as the vice president of the UFW and co-founded the UFW’s radio station.
Today, she continues to speak for a variety of causes, advocating for comprehensive immigration policy and better health conditions for farm workers. For her activism, she has received the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award, was inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award in 1998, and the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. She also created the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which brings organizing and training skills to low-income communities.
Sylvia Rivera was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent and was born in New York City in 1951. She was assigned male at birth but knew from an early age that she was different. Her childhood was very difficult and she ran away from home at the age of 11 however, Rivera’s life took a turning point when she met fellow future Stonewall uprising veteran, Marsha P. Johnson. They both were key players in the riot at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, against a police raid in 1969. Rivera spent six nights protesting the raid and resisting arrest. She was not new to activism and was involved in the Black Liberation movement and peace movement prior to Stonewall. Stonewall was a turning point for the gay rights movement and the first pride parades started soon after.
However, Rivera and other transgender people, particular those of color, were discriminated against in their own community. The role of transgender people of color in the Stonewall uprising was constantly downplayed but Rivera continued to fight to have her voice, and those of other transgender people, heard by the gay rights community. Rivera advocated for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York to include protections for transgender individuals, and founded multiple safe spaces and houses for the transgender community over the course of several decades. Today the Sylvia Rivera Law Project continues to guarantee protection against discrimination for individuals regardless of gender identity.
Gloria Estefan was born in Havana, Cuba in 1957. Her maternal grandparents were Spanish immigrants, and her maternal grandfather, Leonardo García, immigrated to Cuba from Spain. She and her family fled to Miami, Florida during the Cuban Revolution. There she met her husband Emilio Estefan and joined his band, the Miami Latin Boys, changing the name to Miami Sound Machine. Estefan attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida where she graduated in 1979 with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in French. While attending the University of Miami, Estefan also worked as an English, Spanish, and French translator at Miami International Airport’s Customs Department. In 1984, she was inducted into the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the highest honor bestowed by the University of Miami.
Estefan has sold over 100 million albums worldwide and won seven GRAMMYs. In 2017, she became the first Cuban-American to be named as one of the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her contributions to American music. Estefan's daughter Emily is a recording artist and her son Nayib is an aspiring filmmaker and owner of the Nite Owl Theater in Miami. She and her husband are active LGBTQ advocates, and their daughter Emily is openly lesbian.
Alfonso Cuarón, acclaimed Mexican screenwriter and director, was born November 28, 1961 in Mexico City. He went on to distinguish himself with a volume of work that includes dramas such as A Little Princess and Y Tu Mamá También, the fantasy film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and science fiction thrillers like Children of Men. Alfonso Cuarón has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards before becoming the first Mexican director to win an Oscar for his 2013 drama, Gravity. With his 2018 film Roma, he tied the record for the most Oscar nominations (four). Cuarón became the first Director of Photography in the history of the Academy Awards to win Best Cinematography for a movie he also directed, an achievement neither one of his Oscar-winning compatriots Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu have.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, is an American politician and activist for the Democratic party. Ocasio-Cortez was born to a working-class Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, New York City on October 13, 1989. During college Cortez worked for Senator Ted Kennedy's office where she focused on immigration issues, she graduated cum laude from Boston University in 2011 with a Bachelor or Arts degree in International Relations and Economics. After college, AOC became a community organizer and worked as a bartender and waitress to help her family after the death of her father. Cortez began her campaign in April 2017 with a powerful video where she stated “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”
On June 26, 2018, AOC drew national recognition when she won the Democratic Party’s primary election for New York’s 14th congressional district defeating 10 - term Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley. Taking office at 29, AOC became the youngest woman to ever serve in the United States Congress. Her victory speech “This is not the end, this is the beginning” encouraged the progressive hopes of her liberal supporters.
As an active member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Cortez advocates a progressive platform which includes tuition-free public college, federal jobs guarantee, abolishing US Imigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), Medicare for all, Green New Deal, and support for workplace democracy. Cortez also has a large social media presence and uses her platform to speak out on abortion, Covid, border issues, and more. Overall, AOC is the first representative to truly reflect the demographics of the 14th District which is about 50 percent Latinx.
Michaela Jae Rodriguez
Michaela Jae Rodriguez is a trailblazer in Hollywood as an actress, model, and musician, while also being a proud activist. At 31, Rodriguez, who identifies as an Afro Latina trangender woman, has become the first transgender actor to win a Golden Globe. She won this award for her powerful role as Blanca Evangelista in FX’s series, Pose. The show, which revolves around the ballroom scene of New York City in the 80's and 90’s is revolutionary for its depiction of LGBTQ+ life and the AIDS epidemic. It is also the show with the largest cast of transgender actors in history.
However, despite high praise from critics, the show has continually been snubbed by award shows. Rodriguez, her co-stars, and fans of the show have spoken out about its lack of recognition and show there is still work to be done in Hollywood. Rodriguez has continually been an advocate for more representation of Black and Latino communities, and recognition of their hard work in the entertainment industry. She has also made history by being the first transgender woman to get an Emmy nomination in the lead actress category. She has become a role model in Hollywood, a place where she never saw someone who looked like her as a child. Rodriguez and her Pose co-stars marched in the 2019 Pride March in New York City with The Trevor Project to advocate for suicide prevention in LGBTQ+ youth. Rodriguez is also an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bad Bunny is a rising super star in today's music scene, becoming the first songwriter to make an all-Spanish record that reached No.1 on the Billboard 200 and being named Spotify's artist of the year in 2020. Bad Bunny, born Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, grew up in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Ocasio is not only praised for his chart topping reggaeton, but for his activism and rebellion against the machismo mentality that often exists within música urbana’s hip hop, trap and reggaeton scenes.
After garnering success, Benito created The Good Bunny foundation, which gives away thousands of toys annually to needy children for Christmas, and provided aid after Hurricane Maria, which has rocked the community of Puerto Rico years after its initial impact. Bad Bunny continued his activism in 2019 with escalating pressure for the Puerto Rican governor Richard Rosselló to resign, Bad Bunny joined protests and even wrote a song to announce the goals and the views of the movement. His involvement along with other Puerto Rican artists boosted the power of the movement leading to Rosselió's resignation in July 2019. Bad Bunny’s activism also extends to LGBTQ+ rights and violence against the community.
In his performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Ocasio wore a shirt calling attention to the brutal murder of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a Puerto Rican transgender women, who was killed for simply using the bathroom. Bad Bunny has proven time and time again that he will not succumb to the sexist machismo pressure that exists in the music scene, he wears eccentric clothing, paints his nails and isn't afraid to show his femininity. He has opened the door for other artists like him, and is a great role model for those in the Hispanic community.