Bow Down: American women owe these Latinas a huge debt of gratitude

by Tanisha Love-Ramirez

Save for International Women’s Day, I rarely hear or read stories about the ways in which Latinas have impacted women’s lives worldwide and in the U.S. Why is that? Did I miss some sort of feminist racial draft or something? Was it decided somewhere along the way that women of color had their own Sheroes—heroines who fought for some bass ackwards form of equality that is not, in fact, “for all,” but just for them? It sure feels like that’s the case. But, thankfully, it isn’t.

Just as I, and other Latinxs, have benefited from all of the hard work and advocacy demonstrated by non-Latinx thought leaders, feminists, civil rights leaders, authors such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, the suffragettes, bell hooks, and Maya Angelou, non-Latinas—really, all ‘Muricans—have benefited greatly from the advocacy and general badassery demonstrated by Latinas in America.

So in the name of sisterhood and all that jazz, I want to share with you my Latinx heroines. Whether you’re a non-Latinx woman, they’re your heroines, tambien. For real. The work they’ve done has paved the way for all. Here are ten (to name only a few) Latinas who’ve changed the ways in which we all view our bodies, sex, race and the world. You’re welcome, ladies!

Dolores Huerta—Civil rights activist

Think just because you’re not a farmer or agricultural worker, Dolores Huerta doesn’t have your back. Ladies, please! Following a brutal attack sustained during a peaceful and lawful protest of the policies of George H.W. Bush in 1988, Huerta decided took a break from advocating for farmworkers’ rights to focus on women’s rights. For two years, the award-winning civil rights activist and labor leader toured the country on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the year 2000 Campaign. Then in 2002, Huerta founded the aptly named Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization that offers members such programs as the “Weaves Movements Together,” an initiative dedicated to raising awareness of women’s rights and gay rights, as well as immigrant rights and labor rights.

Sonia Sotomayor—Supreme Court Justice

Yeah, so Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a comment many moons ago about how she felt “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life,” but that isn’t to say she, a Latina, is only qualified to rule over cases involving Latinos. She’s a United States Supreme Court Justice, for Pedro’s sake. That means she has sworn to protect and uphold the law for all United States citizens, not just Latinos. In her career so far, Sotomayor has rendered rulings in cases involving everything from Miranda rights violations to the protection of freedom of speech. Last July, she voted against an injunction that would allow Wheaton College some exemption from complying with Affordable Care Act’s mandate on contraception.

Vilma Socorro Martinez—Lawyer, civil rights activist and diplomat

Have you heard about this little thing called Affirmative Action? Well, you can, in part, thank Vilma Socorro Martinez for that. Martinez served as the attorney for the petitioner in the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Company, a landmark case that ultimately went before the U.S. Supreme Court, where it became the catalyst for the doctrine of affirmative action. The Griggs case brought to the court’s attention that even if a company hired candidates solely on the basis of their training, and it could be proven that minorities had in the past faced obstacles to receiving such training, then the training requirements for the job were discriminatory. Partly in response to the Griggs case, the federal government mandated a nationwide police of affirmative action in 1972.

Carolina Herrera—Designer and humanitarian

Venezuelan designer Carolina Herrera isn’t just interested in helping women dress their cuerpos (body). She’s wants to help keep them healthy and strong. In 2012, the American Cancer Society ambassador designed a limited-edition T-shirt to support Key to The Cure, a breast cancer awareness campaign spearheaded by Saks Fifth avenue, and donated 100% of the proceeds to the cause. The proceeds from the initiative were then donated to local women’s cancer charities.

Maria Teresa Kumar and Rosario Dawson—Voto Latino

When Rosario Dawson and Maria Teresa Kumar founded Voto Latino, they did so with ALL American millennials in mind. At present, Latino millennials make up approximately 21% of the millennial population. That’s almost one fourth of the American millennial population. Imagine what would happen if almost a quarter of your peer group didn’t vote on issues that impact young people today. That would really suck for millennials as a whole. That’s why Voto Latino matters. The organization was founded on “the belief that Latino issues are American issues and American issues are Latino issues,” and “is dedicated to bringing new and diverse voices to develop leaders by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change,” according to the organization’s site. Sounds like a plan to me.

Soledad O’Brien—Journalist

Journalist Soledad O’Brien has dedicated her life to telling oft-untold stories. Her documentaries, Latino In America and Black In America shined a spotlight on the successes, struggles, and complex issues faced by people of color in America, turning the idea that many have of us living in a post-racial America on its head. Yeah, no. Racial disparities and inequities still exist, and contrary to popular belief, these inequities have a negative impact on the nation as a whole. The reality is, a country cannot succeed if large portions of its population are struggling financially, incarcerated or undereducated.

Sylvia Méndez—Civil rights activist

Schools were still segregated in Santa Ana, California during the 1940s. That is, until Sylvia Mendez and her family rolled into town. When Mendez and her brothers were denied access to an all white elementary school in their hometown, her parents filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles against the school district. On February 18, 1946, Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled in favor of Mendez, making it so she would become one of the first Hispanics to attend an all-white school. Mendez’s case ended de jure segregation in California, setting a precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education seven years later, which brought an end to school segregation in the entire country.

Antonia Novello—U.S. Surgeon General

Surgeon General Antonia Novello was champion for women, children and people in possession of lungs everywhere (aka, everyone). During her tenure as Surgeon General, Novello worked tirelessly to educate parents about the benefits of early childhood immunizations, advocate for policies prohibiting family planning program workers who received fed eral money from discussing abortion with their patients, and take tobacco companies to task for using cartoons such as Joe Camel to appeal to younger consumers.

Rita Moreno—Actress and singer

Many of today’s established and rising Latina starlets and Hollywood heroines were inspired by legendary actress and singer Rita Moreno. During last year’s 25th annual GLAAD Media Awards, Jennifer Lopez opened up about how watching Moreno in West Side Story made her feel anything was possible. "She changed my life," Lopez said after Moreno presented her with the Vanguard Award. "Watching this beautiful, strong Puerto Rican woman command a screen with her talent in a time when Latina women did not have every door in this industry open to them made me feel as a little girl, watching in her living room in the Bronx, that anything was possible. Anything. Thank you for that." Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez echoed J.Lo’s sentiments in an interview with the The Hollywood Reporter last summer. “I used to think that we [Latinos] didn’t even exist,” she said. “and then to see Rita do it, I just realized we needed to make a stronger impact.”

I hear that! Latinas and Latinos do need to make a bigger and stronger impact—in our own communities, on our country at large, and throughout the world. That said, the onus is also on the everyone else to listen up and recognize our achievements, and give credit when credit is due. It’s imperative that the world realize that when it comes to Latinos’ triumphs, what’s ours is yours—because we are and always will be one of you.