We know Latinxs have achieved so much over the years, but the facts are often buried under bias and the pushing of mainstream agendas. Thankfully, facts remain just that — facts — and our accomplishments will always be a part of history. Here are 23 Latinx firsts that make us uber proud!
Selena: First Latina to Grace the Cover of People Magazine and First Predominately Spanish Album to Debut and Peak at #1
Selena Quintanilla’s life and legacy are all about breaking records, breaking barriers, and epic firsts. One of these firsts happened in 1995 when Selena became the first Latina to grace the cover of People. That same year, when her album, Dreaming of You, was released, it became the first album of mostly Spanish songs to debut and peak at number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Selena also won her first career Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album for Live at the 36th GRAMMY Awards in 1994. This was the first time a female Tejano artist won the category.
Ilia Calderon Becomes First Afro-Latina to Anchor a Major News Desk
In 2017, Ilia Calderon made history when she became the first Afro-Latina to anchor a major news desk in the U.S. The Colombian journalist replaced Maria Elena Salinas on Noticiero Univision and has won an Emmy for her work.
Ellen Ochoa: First Latina Astronaut, First Latina in Space, and First JSC Director
Ellen Ochoa made history in 1990 when she became the first Latina to be chosen as an astronaut. In 1993, on the Shuttle Discovery, she became the first Latina in space. She later became the first Latinx director of the Johnson Space Center in 2012.
Franklin Chang-Diaz: First Latino U.S. Citizen in Space
In 1986, Costa Rican Franklin Chang-Diaz became the first Latino U.S. citizen, third Latino, and first Asian-Latino to go into space. Chang-Diaz was part of seven space flights, spending over 66 days total in orbit.
Antonia Novello: First Latina and First Woman Surgeon General
In 1990, Antonia Novello accomplished a Latina first when she was appointed Surgeon General. She is also the first woman to hold the position.
Irene Cara: First Latina to Win Best Song Oscar
Afro-Cuban/Puerto-Rican singer Irene Cara Escalera, known professionally as Irene Cara, was one of the biggest voices of the 1980s. In 1984, her powerhouse song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” from the film Flashdance, won Cara an Academy Award for Best Original Song. She also won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the same tune and shared the Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or A Television Special Grammy for the movie’s soundtrack.
Sonia Sotomayor: First Latina Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice in 2009. In fact, she is the first Latinx ever to hold the position.
Katy Jurado: First Latina Nominated for an Oscar
— Mordecai (@MenschOhneMusil) December 29, 2019
One of the first artists to knock down barriers for Latina actresses was Katy Jurado. The Mexicana was a major player in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema and was also a star in Hollywood. In fact, she was the first Latina to be nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1954’s Broken Lance), and the first Latina to win a Golden Globe (for 1952’s High Noon).
Rita Moreno: First Latina to Win an Oscar and First Latina EGOT Winner
Rita Moreno is the first Latina to win an Oscar (in 1961). The Academy Award was for her Best Supporting Actress role of Anita in West Side Story. She is also the first Latina EGOT winner —having received an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
Noelle Santos: Opens First and Only Bookstore in The Bronx
— VICE (@VICE) June 1, 2017
When Barnes and Noble closed in The Bronx, it left the borough without a bookstore. This is where Afro-Puerto Rican Noelle Santos comes in. She saved the day by deciding to open The Lit. Bar, a place offering books, wine (via a wine bar), and a community center.
Susana Martinez: First Latina Governor
Susana Martinez is the first Latina U.S. governor and the first female governor of New Mexico. She was elected governor of the state in 2010.
Martha Bernal: First Latina to Earn a Ph.D. in Psychology in the U.S.
In 1962, after years of study & opposition from her traditional father, Martha Bernal became the 1st Latina to earn a PhD in psychology in the U.S.
— APA Public Interest (@APAPublicInt) January 4, 2018
In 1962, Martha Bernal became the first Latina in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. Bernal went on to help start the National Hispanic Psychology Association and the APA Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs, and serve as a mentor to “minority” psychology students.
Rafaela Silva: First Brazilian to Win a Gold Medal
Representing Brazil in the U57kg category
at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo 2019 #JudoWorlds
Photo: IJF Gabriela Sabau pic.twitter.com/gxezoyJvor
— JudoHeroes (@JudoHeroes) August 21, 2019
Brazilian joduka Rafaela Lopes Silva won the gold model at the 2016 Rio Olympics, in the women’s 57 kg division. This was Brazil’s first gold medal ever. Her victory was especially inspiring considering she’d thought about quitting judo after receiving many racist comments online after the 2012 London Olympics. Fortunately, she stayed committed to the sport and showed the haters what a winner looks like.
Catherine Cortez Masto: First Latina Elected to the U.S. Senate
— Refinery29 (@Refinery29) November 9, 2016
In 2016, Catherine Cortez-Masto made history, when she became the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Cortez-Masto represents the state of Nevada (where she was also Attorney General).
Selena Gomez: First Person to Reach 1oo Million Followers on Instagram
Selena Gomez landed on the cover of Time for being the first person to reach 100 million Instagram followers. Gomez often uses the online platform to give back, share her views and shares important information with her fans.
Joan Baez: First Latina on the Cover of Time Magazine
In November of 1962, iconic folk singer, songwriter, and activist Joan Baez became the first Latina entertainer to appear on the cover of Time. The cover story of the November 23 issue spoke about Baez’s upbringing and foray into folk music.
Elizabeth Guzman One of First Two Latinas Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates
Elizabeth Guzman is one of two women to be the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The Peruvian-American was part of a Democratic sweep in the state this past Tuesday.
Hala Ayala One of First Two Latinas Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates
Virginia just voted in their first two ever Latina State Representatives in their state's history. Democrats Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala both defeated Republican incumbents tonight. #HistoricNight pic.twitter.com/hq1plniVBz
— Irvin Camacho (@IrvinCamachoAR) November 8, 2017
Hala Ayala is the other Latina who was among the first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Ayala also helped organize the state for the Women’s March on Washington.
Joan Smalls: First Latina Face of Estee Lauder
Another top model who is Afro-Latinx is Joan Smalls. The Afro-Puerto Rican, who models.com called one of the next supermodels, made history when she became the first Latina face of Estee Lauder.
Maria Isabel Urrutia: Won First Gold Medal for Colombia
Maria Isabel Urrutia…..Colombia’s first ever Olympic Gold Medalist. pic.twitter.com/03xglz7gUd
— Capitan ColOmbia-USA 🇨🇴🇺🇸 (@CapitanColombia) May 22, 2020
María Isabel Urrutia Ocoró won Colombia’s first gold medal at the 2000 Sydney games, for weightlifting (in the women’s 75 kg class). Before changing over to weightlifting, Urrutia had competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul in shot put and discus throw. At the time of her win, she used her gold medal for good, advocating for peace against the armed guerrillas in her homeland.
Jose Ferrer: First Latino and Hispanic to Win Oscar
— Chirlane McCray (@NYCFirstLady109) February 29, 2016
There is something major about Latinx firsts. They allow for so many achievements and accomplishments to happen after them, in addition to the greatness of the win itself. Just take Jose Ferrer’s feat, for example. The legendary Puerto Rican actor became the first Latinx and Hispanic to win an Oscar, for his lead role in the 1950 film, Cyrano de Bergerac. He was also the first actor ever to receive the Presidential Medal of the Arts, in 1985. It is the highest honor an artist or art patron can get in the United States.
Dolores del Rio: First Latina Crossover Star in Hollywood
— Tlahtoani_1521 (@Tlahtoani_1521) July 22, 2020
Latinx women in Hollywood wouldn’t be a thing without Dolores del Rio. The Mexican icon, known as the female Rudolph Valentino, is the first Latinx crossover Hollywood star, making her mark in Tinsel Town during the 1930s and ’40s, and as part of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, during the 1940s and ’50s. A legendary beauty with talent, Dolores films include Flying Down to Rio, The Fugitive, and Maria Candelaria.