9 Latina Activists Carrying on Martin Luther King Jr’s Legacy

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter

Photo: Instagram/msladyjustice1

Photo: Instagram/msladyjustice1

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”- MLK Jr.

Fifty years from today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He would have been 89-years-old and as we remember his life, it’s easy to gloss over all of the hardships he and his fellow civil rights activists endured and just skip to the end result. Contrary to the rosy picture painted in history books and by films like Selma, we have to remember that Dr. King was not well liked by the government, or even by all Civil rights leaders and activists. Like most people trying to make change, he and his family were harassed by police, in 1963 he spent 11 days in a Birmingham jail, and he was depicted as a violent agitator despite his calls for non-violence – sound familiar? What he was proposing to the segregated South was considered absolute madness, a madness we still see in Southern State’s resistance to removing confederate statues, their penchant for voter suppression laws, and willingness to vote for child molesters.

Dr. King’s memory has become a point of pride and a jumping off point for race relations in the U.S., which have struggled tremendously in the last year thanks to you know who. It’s easy to look around and feel like nothing has changed, especially since Black and Brown Americans are still fighting for their basic human rights and dignity every day. But Dr. King’s teachings continue to inform the mission of social activists all across this great nation of ours and beyond, here are nine Latina activists that are carrying on his legacy by fighting for the things that matter.


Sylvia Mendez

In 1855, the California State legislature determined that school boards could not use public funds to educate non-white students. When we think about segregation cases, most people think Brown vs. The Board of Education not Mendez vs. Westminster (Sylvia’s Case), which was upheld in 1947 to desegregate schools in California. In 1943, five Mexican American families took four school districts (Westminster, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and El Modena, now Eastern Orange) in Orange County to court, challenging the “separate but equal” “Mexican Schools” their children were subjected to. Mendez vs. Westminster became the first case in U.S. history to rule in favor of desegregation, a ruling that was also used as precedent in Brown vs. The Board of Education. Mendez has continued the legacy of her parents, advocating for Latino rights and for education. In February of 2011 President Barack Obama presented her with the Congressional Medal Freedom for her civil rights activism throughout her life.


Monica Ramirez


Monica Ramirez is an award-winning civil rights attorney, advocate and author who created a movement to elevate Latina Equal Pay day on November 2nd. Ramirez is the advocate behind the largest Latina equal pay movement in the United States and founded the first U.S.-based project dedicated to representing female farmworker victims of gender discrimination and workplace sexual violence. She has gone on to lead several large scale initiatives, before earning her Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. Ramirez is also the Deputy Director for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). You can check out her Twitter here, work with the LCLAA here and get involved with Latina Equal Pay here.


Isa Noyola

The Texas-born and Cali-raised Isa Noyola is a translatina and immigrant rights activist. She’s a national leader in the LGBTQ immigrant rights movement, and the deputy director at Transgender Law Center. With her indigenous roots from Comitán, Chiapas and San Luis Potosí, Mexico – Noyola works extensively for the release of transgender women from ICE detention and an end to all deportations. She is a part of the #Not1more campaign team and sits on the advisory boards of TAJA coalition, El/La para Translatinas, and Familia:Trans, Queer Liberation movement. She has organized the first ever national trans anti-violence convening that brought together over 100 activists, mostly trans women of color, to address the epidemic of violence trans communities are facing. You can check the work she does with the Transgender Law Center here and follow them on Twitter here.


Nalgona Positivity Pride

Gloria Lucas, teaches seminars on why eating disorders in Brown and Indigenous women are a social justice issue. She’ll get you thinking about why conversations about body image don’t confront the inherit colorism and racism within the makeup – no pun intended – of the mainstream beauty industry. Why do we find blonde hair, blue eyes, and thin bodies to be the absolute pinnacle of beauty? Why have we been convinced to love what we are not more than what we are? Brown/Indigenous entho-criticism on the layered experience their own bodies face is necessary, you can support her Patreon here. You can check her seminars and support groups here.


Nancy Morejón

Nancy Morejón’s work on contemporary issues of ethnicity, gender, history, politics, and Afro-Cuban identity was directly influenced by the Black Liberation Movement in the United States. Morejón is on the forefront of the Afro Latina experience within Cuban revolutionary thought and the legacy being a child of both Spanish and African cultures. “Morejón is the best known and most widely translated female poet of post-revolutionary Cuba.” She is the first Black female poet to be published widely and be accepted as a professional writer, critic, and translator. Morejón is the winner of the Critic’s Prize (1986) and Cuba’s National Prize for Literature (2001). She currently directs the Caribbean Studies Center at Casa de las Américas, Havana, epicenter of Cuban and Latin American intelligentsia.” (Bombmagazine.org) You can buy her books here.


Carmen Perez

Carmen Perez is the Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit organization founded by artist and activist, Harry Belafonte. Through her role, Perez has traveled the world as an advocate for human and civil rights, promoting peace and working with state and federal officials on developing alternatives to incarceration and violence. She has put on educational, spiritual, and cultural events for incarcerated youth across the world, from New York to El Salvador and Venezuela.Carmen is also the co-founder of Justice League NYC and founder of Justice League CA, “two state-based task forces for advancing juvenile and criminal justice reform agenda.” Most recently she’s serving as the National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington. You can check out her work here and keep up with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Johanna Toruno


Johanna Toruno is the creator of the Unapologetically Brown Series, an ongoing street art project that focuses on empowering Brown women in spaces that feel hostile or borrowed. What started out as flower flyers in Queens has taken on a complete life of its own as Turino’s loveletters to Brown girls continue to resonate with us on a spiritual level. Today she’s lectured at NYU, talked about TPS on NPR, has been featured on NowThis, Refinery 29, and here at HipLatina. Toruno continues to speak publicly about the need for positive representation and immigrant rights. You can follow her work here.


Cassandra of @Xicanisma_


Ana Castillo said: “It is our task as Xicanistas, to not only reclaim our indigenismo, but also to reinsert the forsaken feminine into our consciousness.” Cassandra has made it her business to provide social commentary about the persistent way we as a society – and as systematically disadvantaged people – cling so tightly to the ‘isms’ that only serve to reinforce those very systems of hierarchy and disadvantage. She tackles subjects like ableism, sexism, white feminism, capitalistic structures, machismo and how they are so willfully reinforced and overlooked on the daily. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter @gringatears, and Instagram, support her Patreon and listen to @bitterbrownfemmes, the podcast she co-hosts here.


Bamby Salcedo

Bamby Salcedo is the founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition, a Los Angeles based organization whose “vision is to amplify education and resources to promote the empowerment of Trans leaders” as well as  “advocate for the specific needs of the Trans Latin@ community that resides in the U.S.A. and to plan strategies that improve our quality of life.” Salcedo has received several awards for her community work and she was the subject of the 2013 documentary, TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story. You can follow her work here, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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