Latinas continue to make strides in America whether it’s in politics or entertainment and this year we made history more than once. Though 2017 is mired in controversies, tragedies and social injustices, this list is meant to highlight the successes and groundbreaking achievements of Latinas in various fields to remind us there was plenty of good too. While this list is not exhaustive (let’s face it, there are so many amazing Latinas out there), it does include some of the most outstanding and poderosa women repping our culture today.
Lizzie Velásquez – Motivational Speaker/Author
YouTube sensation and inspirational speaker, Velasquez released “Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World.” Born with neonatal progeroid syndrome, a rare combination of Marfan syndrome and lipodystrophy that prevents her from gaining weight, she was once bullied for being “the World’s Ugliest Woman.” Instead of recoiling she released a YouTube video addressing the bullying and promising to those who also experience bullying that “it gets better.” Her TEDTalk gained millions of views and now the release of the book encourages a culture of kindness.
Gina Rodriguez – Actress/ Producer
What’s not to love about one of the most vocal and prominent Latinas in entertainment? We love her on “Jane the Virgin” but off-screen she’s been an advocate for the Latinx community and this year launched two new series centered on the Latino community for CBS and The CW and is directing an episode of “Jane the Virgin.” She also has a strong social media presence which she uses to promote the work of other Latinx using the hashtag #movementmondays.
Gloria Calderon Kellet – Writer/ Producer/Director/Actress
She may not be a household name but fans of “Jane the Virgin” have seen her as network exec working with Rogelio and she’s the showrunner behind the remake “One Day at a Time.” The show centers around three generations of a Cuban- American family (inspired by Kellet’s own upbringing) and stars Justina Machado and Rita Moreno. In addition to bringing a Latino family to the forefront, the show also shines a spotlight on the queer Latina experience. So much Latinidad shouldn’t be an exception on TV and Kellet is making strides to showcase the Latinx experience on screen.
Cardi B – Rapper
She became the first rapper to make it to Billboard’s number one without the assistance of any other artist since Lauryn Hill nearly 19 years ago with “Bodak Yellow.” And let’s go ahead and add that she’s only the fifth rapper ever to lead the Hot 100. Cardi B aka Belcalis Almanzar, of Dominican/Trinidadian descent, also released a Spanish version of her mega-hit, “Bodak Yellow” recognizing her Latin roots. She’s no stranger to the hustle, having gained attention through her social media accounts in 2013 leading to a stint on “Love & Hip Hop” before her breakthrough in music.
Ana Navarro – Political Commentator
She gained fame and popularity with her takedowns of Donald Trump, going viral several times during his run for president. The Republican strategist’s anti-Trump sentiments have not wavered during his presidency and she’s as articulate and forthcoming as ever. Most recently she commented on his golfing habit saying, “Put a bumper sticker on ‘the Beast’ that says ‘I’d rather be golfing’ and stay there for as long as you can,” referring to the nickname given to Trump’s private limousine.
Geisha Williams – CEO
First Fortune 500 Latina CEO Geisha Williams tells @PoppyHarlowCNN why she believes immigrants are a "secret weapon" to the United States
The latest #BossFiles:
Watch: https://t.co/g0ORyrLJUq pic.twitter.com/Mif6a4l6C3
— CNN (@CNN) April 9, 2018
She may not be a household name but she’s one of the most powerful Latinas in the U.S. The 56-year-old Cuban-American became the first Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company after taking the reins at PG&E Corp. Williams, born Geisha Jimenez, is the embodiment of the American dream having left Cuba with her family when she was five and eventually climbing her way to the top of a 17.7 billion dollar electric utility company. “I’ve got revolutionary blood in my blood,” she told Fortune magazine. With Williams at the helm, PG&E generated 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources— thus reaching its 2020 target three years early.
Cristina Jiménez – United We Dream co-founder
I am humbled and profoundly grateful to be named a MacArthur Fellow by @macfound. #MacFellow pic.twitter.com/8UomNeN1mI
— Cristina Jiménez (@CrisAlexJimenez) October 11, 2017
She’s the executive director and co-founder of United We Dream – the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization – and a game changer as a powerful presence representing the struggles of the undocumented. Jiménez – who came to New York from Ecuador when she was 13 with her family – revealed her undocumented status in 2004 and this year she was recognized for her efforts for immigration reform with a MacArthur Genius award. Since it was founded in 2008, UWD has grown to 57 affiliates in 25 states with a membership of more than 300,000. Jiménez was a pivotal public figure pushing for the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. “We are still here, despite the odds and despite the attacks,” Jiménez has said. “We are not going to go back into the shadows and that’s the inspiration I want to share with undocumented youths and families out there.”
Carmen Perez – Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice
With more than 20 years of social activism under her belt, Perez is a trailblazer advocating not just Latinx issues, but the struggles of fellow minorities and fighting for criminal justice reform through her Justice League task forces in NYC and CA. She was the National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington which attracted more than 5 million supporters worldwide. This year she was named one of Fortune’s Top 50 World Leaders and one of TIME’s most influential people. “It’s very important for Latinx people to not only advocate for ourselves but also for other marginalized communities. We are overrepresented in negative spaces such as poverty, violence, etc. but underrepresented in movement spaces or positions of power,” she told Forbes.
Ilia Calderón – Noticiero Univision Anchor
Calderón made history when she became the first Afro-Latina to anchor a daily evening news program in the US. She replaced Maria Elena Salinas on Noticiero Univision, the most watched Spanish evening broadcast news program in the US. Her interview with a KKK leader went viral but despite the vitriol she encountered the Emmy-award winning anchor proved she’s more than ready to take on the hard stories.
Princess Nokia – Rapper/Feminist
The 25-year-old Afro Nuyorican rapper (born Destiny Frasqueri) caught people’s attention in a viral video when she doused a bigot with soup on the subway in NYC and when she punched a concert goer for allegedly verbally abusing her. But there’s more to the rising star who founded Smart Girl Club and has vowed to make it a platform for intersectional feminists. “It’s for women like myself, who identify on such a multitude of planes and need something that is relatable. Urban feminism is in the community I grew up in, we’re not invisible,” she told i-D magazine.. “It’s saying that whether you like it or not, we’re gonna be represented, we’re gonna demand respect, we’re gonna counteract negligence with our presence, we’re gonna create tools of awareness and protection for sisterhood, for education, and for better ways to navigate our lives. It’s our goal.”
Carmen Yulín Cruz – Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico
Some hugs are from the soul and for the soul. This is one of them. pic.twitter.com/ysasuQBuNG
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) December 13, 2017
The woman who called herself a “pitirre,” “a tiny bird known for fearlessly attacking larger ones,” unsurprisingly had a few choice words for the Trump administration in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “Mr. Trump, do your job. Lives are at stake. This is not about politics. This is not about your ego. This is about the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the US VI (Virgin Islands).” She spoke for the nation as a whole and brought attention to the severity of the situation. Her fierce attitude has been integral to raising awareness and will undoubtedly serve her for the remainder of her service.
Rita Moreno – Oscar-winning actress
I have a crush on young Rita Moreno I have a crush on young Rita Moreno I have a crush on young Rita Moreno pic.twitter.com/M12Iifrr1T
— izzy is crying (@izzy_1517) November 14, 2020
The iconic actress is and always has been an inspiration and this year she took on a role on the acclaimed Netflix reboot One Day at a Time. She plays Lydia, the lovable but meddling Cuban grandma. The role has garnered her much deserved praise and she proves that even at 85 she is still una reina.
Catherine Cortez Masto – U.S. Senator
Cortez Masto made history and broke into a world dominated by white men when she defeated Joe Heck in the U.S. Senate election in Nevada and became the first woman elected to represent Nevada in the Senate and the first Latina elected to serve in the Senate. The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, “The most important things are the incredible Latinas that I’ve met along the way, and young girls who are so excited when they meet me and they know that I’m the first Latina. For me, that tells me that they’re looking at me saying, ‘Oh my gosh, if she can do it, I can do it, too.’ And that’s what I want them to think” she told CNN.
Selena Gomez – Singer
This year she may not have been in the spotlight for her music as much as her personal life but she’s not on the list for her on-again, off-again relationship with Justin Bieber. Her struggle with Lupus and her subsequent announcement that she’d received a kidney transplant from her best friend Francia Raisa raised awareness of the autoimmune disease. She also experienced professional success winning Billboard’s Woman of the Year award, releasing Top 40 hits including “It Ain’t Me” and adding executive producer to her resume with her work on the Netflix megahit “13 Reasons Why.”
Miss Peru Contestants
Watch the Miss Peru 2018 contestants turn this pageant into a protest. ✊ pic.twitter.com/5hrOoMRMXE
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 2, 2017
The 23 contestants used their platform to turn the spotlight away from their bodies and onto the statistics of gender violence in their homeland. Examples of what they shared include “My measurements are… More than 70 percent of all women suffer street harassment; 13,000 girls are victims of sexual abuse in Peru; more than 25 percent of Peruvian girls and teenagers are abused in their schools.”The hashtag #mismedidasson (My measurements are) went viral and brought much needed attention to the prevalence of sexual violence in Peru, particularly Lima, which ranked fifth in a list of the most dangerous megacities for women in a poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation.