Women’s History Month Feature from Hispanic American Village

By the Village Editors and Readers




About The Feature

For Women’s History Month 2006, we took a cue from a longstanding feature at our sister-site, Asian American Village, and decided it would great to invite some Villagers to help us build a commemorative feature recognizing Latinas who have made a meaningful impact on our lives, our communities, and our nation.  Those Villagers took our invitation in spirit — not as a comprehensive, celebrity Who’s Who, not as a horse-race, but as the informal, collective effort to remember, appreciate, and motivate that it is.  We are listing short profiles of their suggestions and hope it will encourage you to send in your own names, stories, and tributes to help keep this “Wall” alive and growing into…a skyscraper!

This year, we’re collecting nominations as comments directly on our blog, so that you have the space to wax poetic about your nominee.  Please help us make the feature educational and inspirational by telling us in just a paragraph or two:

Which Latinas do you think have made the most real, lasting difference in shaping American history and culture, and our communities, and why?”

Click below to dedicate your own “brick” now.




A native of California, but of Mexican extraction, Ellen Ochoa is a multi-accomplished woman.  She is best known for being the first Hispanic woman astronaut, having made 4 space voyages, since being recruited by NASA, in 1991.  But, she is also a noted inventor, with three patents for her work in optics, is a trained classical flutist and private airplane pilot as well. See: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/ochoa.html



Rita Hayworth is considered Hollywood’s first Latina superstar.  Born in Brooklyn, New York to an Irish American mother and Andalucian father, Margarita Cansino began performing as a teenager when she toured the US and Mexico, performing traditional Spanish dances with her father.  She went on to star with Hollywood legends such as Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Glenn Ford in Silver Screen classics like Separate Tables and Cover Girl.  Rita was known to have had tempestuous love relationships and was married 5 times.



These three women were key to the fight for human rights for Mexican Americans and the movement to organize Mexican workers in Texas.  They were leaders in the historical 1938 strike at the Southern Pecan Shelling Company in San Antonio.  The workers were victorious, but mechanism of the pecan shelling process would soon take away their jobs. See http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/oep1.html



A Chicana writer, scholar and activist, Ana Castillo’s focus is on Chicana, and increasing, all Hispanic women’s issues.  Her literary vehicles include novels, short stories, essays and poetry.  Among her numerous awards are the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for her first novel, The Mixquiahaula.



The first woman and first Puerto Rican to be named to a Cabinet post, Aida Alvarez worked for the Clinton White House from 1997 until Clinton left office, in 2001.  Before coming to the Beltway, Alvarez worked as an investment banker, broadcast journalist and was president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the public health care system of that city.



Linda Chavez’ 2002 book, An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal: Or How I Became the Most Hated Hispanic in America, best sums her up.  The one time high-up of the American Federation of Teachers took a sharp right turn and now, a columnist and talking head for Fox News, opposes affirmative action and bilingual education, is a hawk on foreign policy and is avowedly anti-union.  Chavez was George Bush’s nomination for Secretary of Labor, in 2001, but she withdrew her nomination after it was revealed she had hired an undocumented live-in domestic.




Since 1985, Antonia Hernandez has served as President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), protecting the legal rights of the nation’s Latinos.  She grew up in a Los Angeles housing project after her father had been allowed back into the States following his expulsion during the Depression.  Antonia cut her eyeteeth in the fight for Latino rights working as a summer intern with migrant farm workers.



Especially committed to the health concerns of women, children and minorities, Puerto Rican-born Antonia Novello has the double distinction of being the first woman and first Hispanic surgeon general.  She campaigned, under the administration of the first president Bush, against big tobacco and alcohol and their advertisers.



The first Puerto Rican woman elected to House, in 1992, Nydia Velazquez was born in the town of Yubocoa, the daughter of a cane-cutter.  Although she was the first in her family to earn a high school diploma, her inspiration for both politics and activism was her father who’d founded a political party to fight for Yucoboa workers’ rights.  She is still a member of the House, bringing a progressive agenda to an area that covers parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, New York. See: http://www.house.gov/velazquez/biography.htm




Born Glorita Maria Fajardo, her family fled Cuba to settle in Miami, in 1959.  Gloria began singing in 1975 with the Miami Sound Machine, married keyboardist Emilio Estefan, and rose to national stardom with their first English-language release, Primitive Love, in 1985.  Estefan went on to solo and became for a while America’s leading Latin recording artist.  She was seriously injured in a car accident in1990, but made a comeback after her recovery, winning Grammys in 1993 and 2001.



Clarissa Pinkola Estes was born of Mexican parents, adopted by a Hungarian couple, and raised in an Eastern European community in the Midwest.  With a PHD, she became a Jungian analyst and used Jung’s orientation towards mythology to guide her own interest in women’s psychology and nature.  Her seminal book, Women Who Run with the Wolves (translated into 30 languages), explores the similarities between the two, in their free spirits, fierceness and devotion to mate and community.  She has been a post-trauma specialist at Columbine High School and community, in Littleton, Colorado following the massacre of 1999.  See: http://www.mavenproductions.com/estes.html


ELECTA ARENAL – educator, scholar

Electa Arenal is a leading intellectual and translator, a pioneer in women’s studies and a scholar of Latin American women’s literature, with a specialty in monastic literature. Professor Arenal helped found women’s studies at Richmond College (now the College of Staten Island) at the City University of New York in the early 1970’s.  From 1997-2000 she was the Director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at CUNY’s Graduate Center.


JUDITH BACA – artist, activist

A Chicana, native of southern California, Judith Baca has, since 1969, combined her talent as a muralist with social activism. In 1976, she founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice, California, from which she continues to launch her public art projects.  Her mural, The Great Wall of Los Angeles, traces the ethnic and cultural history of the city. Covering nearly 2500 running feet of depictions, it took eight years to complete and engaged 400 young people in the making.


SUSANA BACA – musician, activist

This Peruvian superstar travels the world singing of and for her Afro-Peruvian people, a minority long marginalized in a country just now beginning to recognize the integrity of its indigenous majority.  Gifted with a songbird’s voice and infinite womanliness, Susana Baca has not rested on her fame, nor her art–which includes six intense and complex major label albums.  She has, along with her husband, Bolivian Ricardo Pereira, created a vast archive, documenting, through text, music and artifact, the history of African slavery in her country.


IDA CASTRO – public servant, academic

Born in New York City and raised outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ida L. Castro became the first Latina chairperson of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in 1998.  Before her appointment, she’d chalked up a series of other “firsts:” founder and co-chair of the first Hispanic women’s organization in New Jersey; first Hispanic commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Personnel; first woman to become Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs.  Castro was appointed, in 2004, to the Haywood Burns Chair of Civil Rights at CUNY Law School.


FRANCE CORDOVA – astrophysicist, educator

The eldest of 12 children, France Cordova, born in Paris to a Mexican father and Irish-American mother, knew early on that, despite the gender barrier, she would actually become a true “rocket scientist.  The astrophysicist, writer, anthropologist, even cookbook author went on to become the youngest person and first woman to serve as head scientist at NASA.  In 2007, Cordova was named the first woman, and first Hispanic, president of Purdue University.


AMERICA FERRERA – actress, role model

The list of America Ferrera’s movie and TV awards is too long, and hers is a household name almost as common nowadays as that of JLo’s.  As Ugly Betty in the smash TV series, Ferrera’s seemingly unsightly looks metaphorically mask a fetching interior.  The L.A. born hondureña, youngest of six siblings, was first noticed in the Latina-celebrating indie hit film, Real Women Have Curves. Perhaps the most wide-reaching nod to her contribution came from Time Magazine who chose Ferrera as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.



We know you’ve seen her, for years and years, on everyone’s list of Latinas who’ve had big impact, the woman who, with Cesar Chavez, organized California campesinos and founded the United Farm Workers Union.  But this is a specially high-profile year for Huerta because she’s gone out on a limb to campaign hard for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid on her own behalf as a woman of working-class and Hispanic background.



With the U.S. agonizing about its readiness to accept a woman president, Latin America has, within the last two years, installed two female heads of state.  Following Michelle Bachelet’s election victory in Chile, in 2006, the year 2007 brought Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to Argentina’s helm.  Fernández de Kirchner succeeds her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who put Argentina back on a steady path of economic growth. His wife has pledged to further her husband’s policies of economic and political integration with other Latin American countries. Soon after her election she said she felt a responsibility to lead her country, but, “an immense responsibility for my gender,” as well.



What about Rita Moreno? “She is the first and only Hispanic and one of the few performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.”


A. INES ROONEY – businesswoman, singer, polyglot

Touted by Latina.com as Reggaeton’s most powerful woman, the superlative gives this dominicana doubly tough creds: She’s made it big in a male-laden artistic realm, and in cut-throat industry as well.  With a background as a financial analyst, Rooney took over as CEO of Más Flow records and immediately tightened the ship: now publishing rights are assured and lawyers hired to oversee all deals and contracts.  Rooney recently appeared as a vocalist, a.k.a. Deevani, on Tito el Bambino’s hit, “Flow Natural.”  Add to her business and musical gifts the fact that A. Ines Rooney speaks 11 languages including Japanese and Hindi.


MARIA VILLAR – businesswoman, mentor

Since 1982, Cuban-American, Maria Villar, has held leadership positions at IBM in software development and IT.  In both 2001 and 2002, she was recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the 100 most Influential Hispanics, then again in 2005 as one of 25 Elite Hispanic Women.  She is a leader in IBM’s diversity programs, serving as co-chair of the Hispanic Executive Committee as well as executive sponsor of the Red Familiar, the Latino Web network for executive women at IBM.  Villar also mentors 20 Hispanics on their way into management positions at the mega-firm.


” It’s completely nonsense that every few seconds a kid dies from avoidable causes [and] that 50 percent of the worldwide population earns less than $2 a day.”  Say what you will about her teenybopper appeal, Shakira has a good heart.  She dealt well with the controversy over sweatshop revelations about her apparel label and the shadowy origins of ”Waka-Waka,” and now she’s launched a $25 million fund in Colombia to help young children.  Shakira is that rare entertainment icon with substance.


It is with fanfare that we add a Sonya Sotomayor-named brick to our wall.  Sonya has lived the immigrant goes on to greatness story as if she’d scripted it.  She adds grit, integrity and some salsa to a faltering Supreme Court.

The 3D tile used here is courtesy of clip-artist Fairy Suryana, whose vast collection of distinctive, free clipart can be found at Dewa 3D.


Eva longoria for her directorial debut, “Latinos Living the American Dream” Documentary aired on PBS last October


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