From September 15th to October 15th, Americans celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of those who come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Latinx individuals are the largest minority in the U.S., yet they are the second most discriminated ethnic group, particularly Latina women. The Gender Equality Law Center is kicking off National Latinx Heritage Month by remembering and acknowledging the notable leadership and impact of several Latinx individuals' tireless work to create better conditions and a more equal society for women, LGTBQI people, immigrants, and workers.
Dolores Huerta (1930 - present)
Dolores Huerta is a Mexican-American co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became United Farm Workers. She is a labor leader and civil rights activist who has strongly advocated for immigrants’ and women’s rights. In addition to organizing, Huerta has actively lobbied for laws to improve the lives of farm workers. She was influential in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, granting farm workers in California the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions, the first law of its kind in the United States. As part of her feminist contribution, she actively participated in the “Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the year 2000 Campaign” encouraging Latinas to run for office. The campaign resulted in a significant increase in the number of women representatives elected at the local, state and federal levels. In 2012 President Obama bestowed Huerta with her most prestigious award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Si, se puede!
Sylvia Rivera (1952 - 2002)
Born and raised in New York City with Puerto Rican and Venezuelan roots, Sylvia Rivera was a transgender activist who fought for transwomen and drag queens of color and organized protests for LGBT rights in the 1970’s. In addition to being a leader at the Stonewall Riots, Rivera co-founded, along with Marsha P. Johnson, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), an organization aimed to house queens and trans women who were living on the street. S.T.A.R. was the first initiative focused on homeless trans youth within New York City. Rivera was also an early member of groups like the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front, which were the forerunners of today’s LGBT advocacy organizations. Rivera’s lifelong activism helped put the “T” in the LGBT rights movement. We are incredibly grateful for her advocacy to help pass the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and education.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (1954 - present)
Daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Justice Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx and is the first Latinx Supreme Court Justice and the third woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Sotomayor’s first case as a Supreme Court Justice was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where she dissented from the majority, which held in favor of the rights of corporations in campaign finance. She ruled with the majority to uphold the Affordable Care Act, and in Obergefell v. Hodges, to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. In addition to her positions on the bench, Sotomayor also taught at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law. Her career can in part be characterized as working to protect minorities and women’s health.
Hilda Solís (1957- present)
Hilda Solís is the daughter of Nicaraguan and Mexican parents and is the first Latina to serve in the United States Cabinet, as former Secretary of Labor under the Obama Administration. She won recognition from labor unions for pushing wage and hour laws, and also job safety regulations. For eight years, Solis represented the 32nd Congressional District in California, where her main concerns included expanding access to affordable health care, protecting the environment, and improving the lives of working families. As a nationally recognized leader on the environment, she became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2000 for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues.
These four women are a tiny sample of numerous Latinas who have fought or are fighting for the rights and lives of women, workers, immigrants, and LGBTQ people. Thanks to them, and their dedicated efforts to empower communities, today we enjoy rights and opportunities that were previously unavailable to some individuals based on their gender or sexuality. Although we still have many mountains to climb, because of their advocacy and perseverance through adversity, we see people in power who are more representative of the vastly rich and diverse culture of the United States.
We proudly celebrate these strong, extraordinary and courageous Latinx individuals, this month and always.
Feliz National Latinx Heritage Month!