Latinx people are resilient. No matter what has been thrown our way, we find a way to prevail, succeed, and turn whatever negativity was presented to us into something that makes us stronger and better. Aside from our own personal experiences and that of our loved ones, we have also witnessed this to be the case in the Latinx celebrity world. So many artists have used bad times and obstacles to fuel their fire and take them to great new heights. Here, we feature 27 people who rose up after falling down, who broke down barriers, and proved that si se puede!
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a K’iche’ Guatemalan activist, who turned tragedy into triumph. After the torture and murder of her father, brother, and mother, she decided to continue her fight for the rights of the indigenous peoples and women of Guatemala and other countries. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work.
Chicana civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta fought alongside Cesar Chavez for the rights of migrant farmworkers. With Chavez, she co-founded the National Migrant Farmworkers Association (later the United Farm Workers), and is credited for coining the phrase, “Si se puede.” Not even arrests and an assault by the SFPD could keep Huerta from standing up for what’s right.
After working in migrant labor and seeing how unfairly workers were treated, Cesar Chavez decided to fight for farmworkers’ rights, environmental rights, and overall social justice. Together with Dolores Huerta, Chavez 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.
Sonia Sotomayor succeeded in the face of adversity. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven, lost her father at the age of nine, and faced discrimination while attending Princeton. Despite this, she 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.
Teen pregnancy. Abuse. Marriages that shattered her family life, and so many more struggles. Jenni Rivera was such a boss, partly because she was a triumphant survivor. But we wouldn’t know that and be inspired by that if Jenni wasn’t brave enough to share with us her life experiences and lessons learned.
La Diva de la Banda found strength through these struggles, as well as, success. She had five double-platinum, 15 platinum, and 15 gold albums, starred in her own reality shows, had several business ventures, and personified what it means to be a jefa in every sense of the word.
Selena Gomez shared that BFF Francia Raisa had saved her life by giving her a kidney. Gomez has been open about her lupus, helping to educate the world on the disease and how it affects her health. She also has been open about living with anxiety and depression, and her very public break up with Justin Bieber. Instead of letting all this bring her down, Selena came back better than ever with new, triumphant singles (“Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now”), and an upcoming album.
Addiction is a disease that make those with it feel embarrassed, ashamed, and withdrawn. It is tough to share an addiction with others, but that’s exactly what Demi Lovato has done. She is open about where she is in her recovery journey, serving as an inspiration for others. Demi gets knocked down, but the fighter shows that she is bigger than any issue she faces.
Puerto Rican icon Rita Moreno had to overcome the limitations that Hollywood placed on Latinx and WOC actresses in order to showcase her true talent and be taken seriously. It worked. She 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 PEGOT winner — having received a Peabody Award, an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
When some overcome obstacles to achieve something important, they go on to inspire so many other people to do the same. Evangelina Rodriguez is such a role model. The Afro-Dominicana was a trailblazer, becoming the first female doctor in the Dominican Republic (she received her medical degree in 1909).
Afro-Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente overcame discrimination and racism to prove to the world that he 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. He also was a hero. Clemente died in a plane crash while heading to Nicaragua to provide aid to the country after an earthquake.
Music icon Selena Quintanilla Perez has remained a legendary musical icon for many of us. She still lives in our hearts and is a role model who many women and young girls still look up to, whether it’s through listening to her music, living by her quotes and philosophies, or emulating her beauty and style looks. And Selena became the queen of Tejano in spite of the sexism that exists in the genre and its world.
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. She never let the naysayers, Republicans, and racists/sexists make her feel any less capable of this feat, serving as inspiration for many more young Latinas to enter office.
As a child, Ellen Ochoa was teased for liking science. Now she is the one laughing, having 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.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
It was a gutsy move for Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz to stand up for feminism during the 1600s, but that’s exactly what the Mexican writer, philosopher, poet, and composer did. She called out machismo in her work, which got her in trouble, but also made her a legend.
We all need to be schooled in Latino history since we didn’t actually get to learn it in school. Luckily, John Leguizamo heeded the call, creating the Broadway show, Latin History for Morons (currently streaming on Netflix). He has made it a point to create the projects that he wished existed in Hollywood for Latinxs, taking matters into his own hands and making the changes Leguizamo wanted to see.
Time magazine put journalist Jorge Ramos on one of the covers of its 2015 “100 most influential people in the world” issue. The Mexican-American, who has stood up to Trump in press conferences, demanding the truth, has co-anchored Noticiero Univison since 1987. In addition to hosting other shows, and winning several awards, including eight Emmys, Ramos has authored 13 books. A special moment this year is when he spoke in Spanish, telling the world that the language is also spoken in the U.S. and that this country is also ours.
It is always a beautiful thing when someone uses a negative experience in their life to help and uplift others. Pablo Alvarado was forced to leave El Salvador due to death threats to his family. There, he had helped to teach adults in his community how to read and write, something he continued in Los Angeles. Alvarado also worked there as a day laborer and decided to help improve the situation for him and other day laborers by organizing for better working conditions and rights.
Jose Feliciano is an icon. The Puerto Rican singer, musician, and composer didn’t allow poverty or blindness (due to congenital glaucoma) to deter him from his dream. His epic career, spanning almost 60 years, includes seven Grammys, being inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, and receiving a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
Arturo Schomburg, born in Puerto Rico to a mother from St. Croix, and a German father, was told by his teacher that there was no black history, no black achievements, and no black heroes. He knew that was not true, and spent his life researching and sharing proof of Afro-Latinx and African-American excellence.
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).
When Jennifer Lopez became a superstar, dominating the English-language airways and starring in hit movies, she made it popular to be a Latina — in all its forms. She made a curvy body “in” again when Hollywood wanted her to slim down, showcased her unique urban-meets-glam fashion, and let everyone know she was a proud Puerto Rican from the Bronx.
Mariah Carey is known for her glamorous life and being in charge of her image. This didn’t stop the diva from admitting that she has bipolar disorder. The revelation definitely helps in diminishing the stigma of mental illness, and gives others hope.
Living with bipolar disorder never stopped Mariah Carey, who has a five-octave vocal range, has had 18 #1 hits in her career so far. Mariah also has the longest-running number one hit of all time, “One Sweet Day,” which topped the chart for 16 weeks (it is now tied with “Despacito.” She has won five Grammys and has been nominated for 34, and is one of the best-selling female artists of all time.
June saw a momentous moment in political history (and on Instagram). It was then that a Chicano man, Julian Castro, let the world know — in Spanish — that he was running for President of the United States:
“If I’m elected President, I will work hard every single day so that you and your family can get good health care, your child can get a good education, and you can have good job opportunities in a big city or small town. And on January 20, 2021, we’ll say “Adiós” to Donald Trump.”
Christina Aguilera overcame an abusive household, bullying, and betrayal and helped others through the same situations with songs like “Fighter,” “Can’t Hold Us Down,” and “Beautiful.” In the ’90s and ’00s, the Ecuadorian was a huge pop star and is still the pride of Latinas everywhere. She has a powerhouse voice that is undeniable and topped the charts with hit after hit. Some of her number one songs include “Genie in a Bottle,” “Lady Marmalade,” and “Dirrty.”
America Ferrera, like the majority of Latinx actors, faced discrimination in Hollywood, being regarded as “too brown,” “too fat,” and “too poor.” She also was teased as a child for not speaking Spanish well enough, so it seemed like she couldn’t win on either side. But America did win. She won an Alma Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and other recognitions.
Sure, you know Shakira as the blonde, hip-shaking, yodeling Colombiana. We all know her as a talented singer and musician, but did you know she’s also an exceptional songwriter? Shakira’s first album, Magia, featured songs she wrote from the ages of 8-12, and she has been writing musical poetry ever since. But she had to overcome rejection before stardom. In school, Shakira wasn’t allowed in the choir because the teacher thought she sounded like a goat. She proved them all wrong.
There are sex symbols who personify femininity and sex appeal and Raquel Welch is one such woman. Making her splash in the 1960s, the actress, singer, and former model is also a Golden Globe winner. The Bolivian’s look helped to shift the push of the blonde as the sexy ideal, allowing other WOC to finally also get that shine. Raquel also rejected Hollywood’s insistence that she change her professional name to Debbie, since Raquel was seen as “too exotic.”