15 Latinas Who’ve Made a Difference for National Latina Day

Every year since 2015, National Latina Day has been celebrated on August 20 as a way to honor, empower, and uplift Latinas

Latina day

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Every year since 2015, National Latina Day has been celebrated on August 20 as a way to honor, empower, and uplift Latinas. It’s a way to thank ourselves and each other for our contributions and undeniable influence on culture and history. Because as we know, our history doesn’t always make it into the books and yet there are so many Latinas who have made a difference in every industry like science, sports, and the arts including Ellen Ochoa, Lorena Ochoa, and Selena Quintanilla to name a few. This is not an exhaustive list but a round-up of a select few Latinas who have made an undeniable impact not only in their field but also on the world, and who deserve to be honored for their work. Read on to learn more about 15 powerful Latinas who have made a difference and who you should know this National Latina Day.


Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa is a former professional golfer from Mexico who was the top female golfer in the world for almost three years. She began playing golf when she was 5 years old and throughout her illustrious career, won multiple national and world championships. She was the youngest person ever and the first golfer to receive Mexico’s National Sports Award, the most prestigious athletic award in the nation. Though she retired in 2010, she is still considered the best Mexican golfer and the best Latin American golfer of all time, and was even inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. She now operates a foundation that offers education to underprivileged students in her home state of Guadalajara.


Maya Gabeira

Maya Gabeira is a Brazilian big wave surfer who was the first woman to surf big waves in Alaska, California, and Tahiti. She had a setback in 2013 when she broke one of her legs and lost consciousness while surfing. But just five years later, she set a world record for the biggest wave surfed by a woman in 2018, then broke her own record again in 2020 in Nazaré, Portugal by riding a 73-foot wave, and was immortalized in the Guinness Book of World Records. She’s now considered one of the best and most influential surfers in the world.



Selena Quintanilla, a.k.a. the Queen of Tejano Music, was a Mexican American singer who revolutionized the music and fashion industries forever. Though at first she was criticized and turned away from venues for performing Tejano music (which was male-dominated), she quickly broke barriers and rose to success with her now-beloved albums Selena and Amor Prohibido, one of the best-selling Latin albums in the U.S. She also won a Grammy for her live album Live!, the first female Tejano artist in history to receive the honor. She was murdered in 1995 at the age of 23 but her legacy continues to live on. She completely redefined Latin music, made Tejano music mainstream, paved the way for other Latin artists including Shakira and J.Lo., and is considered one of the most influential Latin artists in history. In 2021, she was posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award.


Celia Cruz

The Queen of Salsa herself, Celia Cruz, was a Cuban singer who completely reshaped the genre of salsa music. She rose to fame in Cuba when she was hired as the lead singer for La Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s famous orchestra, as well as Tito Puente Orchestra, before moving to New York after the Cuban Revolution and continuing a long and prosperous career. Over the course of her career, she recorded more than 80 albums and songs including her hits ”La Vida Es Un Carnaval”, “La Negra Tiene Tumbao”, and “Quimbara”, and won two Grammy awards and three Latin Grammy awards. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award over a decade after she died in 2003 from cancer.


Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood who has been acting for over 70 years. She made her early mark on the industry with films like Singin’ in the Rain and The King and I before her breakthrough role as Anita in West Side Story. She won an Oscar for her performance, the first Latina actress to receive the best supporting actress award. Since then, she’s starred in other beloved projects like the TV show One Day at a Time, which was praised for its LGBTQIA+ representation, and the 2021 remake of West Side Story, and fought to create better, non-stereotypical roles for Latina actresses. She’s been one of the few actors to receive an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards) as well as the Triple Crown of Acting (Academy, Emmy, and Tommy awards), as well as many other accolades. Her documentary film, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, won the Women Film Critics Circle “Best Documentary by or About Women” award.


Sylvia del Villard

Sylvia del Villard was an Afro-Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and activist who fought for better conditions and equal rights for Black Puerto Ricans in the entertainment industry. She faced anti-Black discrimination all throughout her life including on the island and in her career. Still, she rose above her circumstances, starred in many theater productions, and participated as a ballet dancer in the Afro-Boricua Ballet. She also founded the Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater, which uplifted and educated others on Black Puerto Rican culture, and performed all over the U.S. and the world. In 1981, she was the first and only director of Afro-Puerto Rican affairs of the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture. She passed away later that same year but continues to be honored for her life’s work and activism.


Lupe Serrano

Lupe Serrano was a Chilean ballet dancer and teacher who made history when she became the first Latina principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. She began dancing when she was four and began her professional training in Mexico City when she was 13, making her stage debut later that year. She became a celebrity in Mexico by the time she was 17 but became well-known on the world stage after performing in the Soviet Union and in other countries as a primary dancer. Both before and after her retirement from ballet, she taught ballet classes to college students and above, including at Julliard, for over 50 years. She passed away in January 2023 but is still considered one of the best ballerinas in the world. She continues to inspire other Latina ballerinas on stage.


Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta is a Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist who fought for improved conditions and wages for California farmworkers. From a young age, she grew up with family stories about union organizing and that was her motivation to advocate for the rights of farm workers and the Latinx community. Later, she was a crucial voice in the farmworkers’ strikes of the 1960s, co-founding the United Farm Workers union with Cesar Chavez and directing the famed Delano Grape Strike that saw improved conditions for farmworkers. Throughout her life, she has also fought for women’s rights and for Spanish-speaking communities all over the U.S. Her accolades include being the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, being credited as the originator of the phrase “Sí, see puede,” and having April 10 be declared “Dolores Huerta Day” in California.


Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez is a Mexican and Puerto Rican civil rights activist who was instrumental in ending school segregation on the basis of race in 1946. When she was only 8 years old, her parents tried to register her at an all-white school that had a better building and educational opportunities, but were denied because of her dark skin and last name. Their decision to take legal action led to Mendez v. Westminster, one of the most important court cases in the history of California, which became the first state in the U.S. to end school segregation. It would pave the way for Brown vs. Board of Education, which ended school segregation on a national scale. After working for three decades as a nurse, Mendez continues to travel and give lectures around the country to inspire others with her story to fight for change.


Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor is a lawyer and jurist of Puerto Rican descent who has served as a Supreme Court Justice since 2009 when she was nominated by President Obama. Her appointment was a historic victory, as she is the third woman, first woman of color, and first Latina to serve on the court. Throughout her tenure, she has fought for criminal justice reform, the rights of defendants, and groundbreaking change for marginalized communities on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender identity. She’s also written opinions on landmark cases to keep healthcare affordable and protect children and immigrants.


Isabel Allende

Chilean writer Isabel Allende is famous for her magical realist fiction and nonfiction known for her first published novel The House of the Spirits,(1982) which has been adapted for film, theater, and an upcoming TV series starring Eva Longoria. Allende is considered the world’s most widely-read Spanish-language author and has been credited with breaking boundaries between U.S. and Latin American literature. In the span of her decades-long career she’s written more than 25 books including The Soul of a Woman (2022) and A Long Petal of the Sea (2019). She has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received Chile’s National Literature Prize, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2014.


Virginia Brindis de Salas

Virginia Brindis de Salas was a Black Uruguayan poet who is still considered to be one of the most famous, beloved, and well-known Black poets in her home country today. At the time, she was one of the few women writers in Uruguay to be published and also one of the few Afro-Uruguayan poets. She published two collections of poetry throughout her life, both of which referenced her African roots and attracted the attention of readers and other writers throughout the world like Gabriela Mistral. In all of her work, she sought to shed light on the lived realities of Afro-Uruguayans, promote racial change, and demand equality and dignity for her community.


Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and educator who had a huge influence on poetry throughout Latin America. Because of her life that was full of many tragedies, she published many books of poetry throughout her life, which explored nature, religion, betrayal, love, motherhood, death, grief, and identity. Her work earned her critical acclaim from critics all over the world, winning national prizes and honorary doctorates. She received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1945, becoming the first Latina and fifth woman to receive the honor, and won the National Literature Prize in Chile several years later. She is also depicted in the 5,000 Chilean peso note, solidifying her importance not only to the poetry world but to her entire home country.


Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa is a Mexican American engineer who became the first Latina to go to space. Even though neither of her parents had degrees, she decided to push ahead in her education and pursue a major in physics. She worked as a researcher for NASA when she applied for their astronaut space program. Even though she was denied, she applied again, was accepted, and embarked on a nine-day mission. She then became the first Latina and second female director of the Johnson Space Center, breaking barriers in the male-dominated industry. She has received many awards and accolades for her work including NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, an induction into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, and an induction into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.


Helen Rodríguez Trías

Helen Rodríguez Trías was a Puerto Rican pediatrician, educator, and activist who became the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association and a fierce advocate for public health services for women, children, queer, and low-income communities. While in Puerto Rico, she not only fought for freedom of speech and Puerto Rican independence, but also established the first center for newborn babies on the island, decreasing their death rate by 50 percent. She also worked to make abortions and birth control free and accessible to low-income women and testified before the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to abolish the practice of sterilizing Black and Latina women without consent. In 2001, she was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for her work and her legacy is still felt today in medicine.

In this Article

Celia Cruz Dolores Huerta Ellen Ochoa Featured isabel allende Latina activists Latina athletes Latina changemakers latina day latina musicians Latina politicians Latina scientists latina writers Latinx dancers Rita Moreno Selena Quintanilla sonia sotomayor Sylvia Mendez
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