Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, but you know we celebrate Latinx culture, history, achievements, and accomplishments all day and every day. It’s a daily process to learn about our contributions over hundreds of years to what is now the United States, something we were barely (if at all) taught in school. Once you realize just how intertwined we are in America’s history and just how present we’ve been through it all, it changes everything.
The best thing you can do between September 15 and October 15 is to share what you know with your fellow Latinxs — and everyone else. And to learn more. That’s the only way that ignorance is dismantled. To help in the cause, we wanted to share 22 important moments in Latinx history in the U.S.
1868: Hispanics Born in the U.S. Are Now Citizens
No matter what people think of Latinxs, there are certain protections for us under U.S. law. One such law, the 14th Amendment, came into effect in 1868. This declared that those of Hispanic origin who were born in the United States are U.S. citizens.
1911: El Primer Congreso Mexicanista Meets in Texas
On September 14, 1911, El Primer Congreso Mexicanista took place in Laredo, Texas. Its goal was to discuss issues that the Mexican and Chicano communities were enduring in the United States, including labor, social, economic, and educational ones.
1943: Marcario Garcia Is The First Mexican to Receive Medal of Honor
Chicano Staff Sargeant Marcario Garcia was the first Mexican awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration a soldier can receive. But that didn’t make Garcia immune to discrimination at home. He was denied service at a restaurant outside of Houston for being Latino, beaten with a bat by the owner, and then charged for the incident before those charges were dropped after an uproar.
1947: Mendez v. Westminster
In 1947, Latinx families decided to stand up against discrimination in the educational system. Several Orange Country schools had forced Mexican children to go to a school separate from white students. The ruling on the federal court case that resulted from this injustice, held that as unconstitutional, as it violated the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” clause.
1950: Jose Ferrer First Latino to Win Oscar
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.
1955: Katy Jurado Becomes First Latina Nominated for an Oscar
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).
1961: Rita Moreno Becomes First Latina to Win an Oscar
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.
1968: Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund Opens
On August 1, 1968, MALDEF opened its doors. Ever since, “the Latino voice for civil rights in America,” based in San Antonio, Texas, has dedicated itself to providing legal support for the Latinx community. You can check out some of their historic victories here.
1968: John Carlos’ Black Power Salute at the Olympics
On this day, in 1968. Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the Black Power salute at the Olympics. pic.twitter.com/ziu8PVebwo
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) October 16, 2016
At the 1968 Olympics, Afro-Cubano John Carlos and African-American Tommie Smith, raised their fists to demand justice (Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with Carlos and Smith). The photo of the two raising the Black Power salute (which Smith called a “human rights salute”) became iconic.
1971: Roberto Clemente is the World Series MVP
Afro-Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente was a great baseball player. He was the first Latino and Caribbean player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, won the Gold Glove Award 12 seasons in a row and was a World Series MVP in 1971. He also was a hero. Clemente died in a plane crash while heading to Nicaragua to provide aid to the country after an earthquake.
1975: Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta’s Work Leads to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act
Both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta fought (and Huerta continues to fight) for farmworkers’ rights, environmental rights, and overall social justice. Together, they formed the National Farm Workers Association, which would lead to the United Farmers of America (UWA). All their tireless work helped to create the important California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This act, a first in the U.S., gave California farmworkers the right to collective bargaining.
1984: Afro-Latinx Irene Cara Was the 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.
1986: Franklin Chang-Diaz Becomes the 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.
1990: Antonia Novello Becomes the First Female 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.
1993: Ellen Ochoa is the First Latina in Space
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.
1995: Selena First Latina on Cover of People 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.
2009: Sonia Sotomayor Becomes First Latina U.S. 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.
2010: Susana Martinez Becomes 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.
2016: Catherine Cortez-Mastro First Latina Elected to U.S. Senate
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).
2017: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Painting Becomes Highest Selling by American Artist
In 2017, iconic Afro-Puerto Rican artist Jean-Michel Basquiat did something that no other artist in America has done — sell a painting (“Untitled”) for $110.5 million.
2017: Ilia Calderon Becomes First Afro-Latina to Anchor a Major News Desk
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.
2018: AOC Becomes Youngest Woman Elected to Congress
In 2018, Nuyorican Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history when she became the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress. The 29-year-old kicked down the door to Congress, promising to be a true voice, and advocate, of the people.