As Latinos continue to make strides in different industries there’s always the issue of recognition for their work and efforts. TIME’s list of 100 influential people includes only 9 Latinxs, so while we celebrate those that made it on the list, we recognize there’s still progress to be made. That said, they not only included Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous activist from Ecuador, but artist Marlene Solorio was so inspired by Nenquimo’s appearance on the list she created this beautiful piece in recognition of the honor. Nenquimo’s fight to protect the rain forest and indigenous communities is vital to the preservation of both so to have this platform to showcase her work is a step in the right direction.
The publication divided the list up into five categories with Latinx present in all but the last one: pioneers, artists, leaders, icons, and titans. The inclusion of celebs Selena Gomez and J Balvin is not totally surprising, but the list also features activists Arussi Unda, who has been one of the main figures in Mexico fighting for justice for women as femicide continues to rise.
Read on to learn why these Latinx figures made a mark in the past year with commentary from Dolores Huerta, Camila Cabello, and America Ferrera among others.
Selena Gomez – Artist
Actress and activist America Ferrera praised Gomez for not just being a great musician but her multiple projects this year including launching beauty line, Rare. Gomez – who revealed she’s bipolar – pledged to raise $100 million in the next decade for mental-health services in underserved communities. Selena’s father is Mexican-American and she’s been a vocal advocate for the immigrant community including being executive produced the Netflix docuseries Living Undocumented.
“Perhaps most important in a time when immigrants fear for their safety and ICE raids pepper the news, Selena has been an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights in America,” Ferrera wrote. “Selena courageously uses her global platform in service of her full identity. She is emblematic of her powerful generation, which patently rejects the notion that they belong in any one lane as artists, activists or citizens of the world.”
J Balvin – Artist
J Balvin (born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín) joined JLo and Shakira for their history-making Super Bowl show earlier this year and in mid-2019 he released Oasis with Bad Bunny. But he also went through difficult experiences including struggling with anxiety and depression as well as testing positive for Covid-19. Camila Cabello – who released “Hey Ma” with the reggaeton star – shared that she was so moved by him discussing his mental health issues as she as going through her own battle with anxiety.
“If there’s one thing I would love everybody to know about him, it’s this: José has always been so humble, hardworking and gracious, and so constantly grateful and kind,” she wrote. “I’ve seen him become a top artist on Spotify and YouTube globally, nicknamed ‘the Prince of Reggaeton,’ his songs streamed more than 42 billion times, all while remaining true to himself, constantly uplifting his peers and supporting his friends, and dreaming big. He’s opened up the doors for Latino artists everywhere by making the world hear and fall in love with our culture, our sounds and our spirit.”
Gabriela Cámara – Pioneer
Acclaimed Mexican chef Gabriela Cámara owns restaurants both in the U.S. and Mexico and last year she was appointed a member of the Mexican government’s Council of Cultural Diplomacy and an advisor to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The two-time James Beard Foundation award semifinalist was featured in the Netflix documentary “A Tale of Two Kitchens” and last year she released her cookbook,”My Mexico City Kitchen.”
“Gabriela Cámara is one of those chefs who is more than a chef—she is a Renaissance woman on the front lines of our industry, fearlessly forging a path toward the more perfect society she envisions.” chef and founder of World Central Kitchen José Andrés wrote. “People ask me about the role of chefs in the 21st century, and I would look no further than Gabriela for the answer. She leads from the front at her restaurants, putting social justice first and advocating for those whose voices are too often marginalized. She walks the walk.”
Cecilia Martinez – Pioneer
Environmental leader, former professor, and grassroots organizer Cecilia Martinez has dedicated her career to advocating for communities affected by toxic pollution. She is the is the co-founder and Executive Director at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) whose research focuses on the development of energy and environmental strategies that promote equitable and sustainable policies.
As I started to work on comprehensive environmental-justice legislation in the Senate, I turned to Martinez to provide critical insight on the cumulative impacts of pollution—when communities are subjected to many different toxins at once—that disproportionately harm communities of color, low-income communities and Indigenous communities,” wrote New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. “Martinez’s indispensable work on behalf of communities that have long suffered from the burden of pollution has demonstrated that the fight for environmental justice is ultimately a movement for human dignity and for our collective future.”
Jair Bolsonaro – Leader
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-deforestation stance has had devastating effects on the Amazon forest. Last year the wildfires in the world’s largest rain forest made headlines with more than 40,000 fires reported. TIME’s international editor Dan Stewart writes that despite the controversy and alleged corruption his approval rate is 37 percent as of late August, his highest rating since taking office last year. He attributes it partly due to the monthly emergency-relief payments made to the country’s poorest during the pandemic yet the country has one of the highest covid-19 death tolls in the world.
“The story of Brazil’s year can be told in numbers: 137,000 lives lost to the coronavirus. The worst recession in 40 years. At least five ministers sacked or resigned from the Cabinet. More than 29,000 fires in the Amazon rain forest in August alone. One President whose stubborn skepticism about the pandemic and indifference to environmental despoliation has driven all these figures upward,” Stewart wrote.
Nemonte Nenquimo – Leader
Indigenous activist Nemonte Nenquimo grew up in the traditional Waorani community of Nemonpare, located on the Curaray River in Ecuador, where her family still lives. She helped to lead her people’s historic victory this year against Big Oil protecting a half million acres of primary rainforest in the Amazon which ignited other indigenous communities to follow her example.
“Nemonte lives her fight, and to have a conversation with her is to witness a rare clarity of purpose. I remember she once told me that she wasn’t going to give up. That she was going to keep fighting. That she would continue to defend the forest that she loves from the industries and the oil companies that would devour it,” actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio wrote.
Bonnie Castillo – Leader
Bonnie Castillo is a registered nurse and executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association. Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta writes that Castillo was among the first to raise awareness of the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to nurses across the U.S. and fought layoffs and pay cuts that nurses faced despite being essential workers.
“Bonnie’s commitment to the labor movement and unions is unwavering; she states that unions are the foundation of a democratic society. Bonnie does not just work to heal patients; she works to heal society. As a mother and grandmother of nurses, I thank Bonnie, and all nurses—including those who have died while serving—for their heroic work in this critical time,” Huerta wrote.
Sister Norma Pimentel – Icon
Sister Norma Pimentel is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley providing shelter, food, and sancturary to people in need. They’ve house and helped more than 100K people at the border and Sister Pimental has been aiding migrants for 30 years.
“Her work has taken on greater importance in the era of Donald Trump, and for good reason. As he has acted with cruelty toward migrants, she has acted with compassion. As he has preyed on the vulnerable and sought rejection, she has preached community and acceptance. As he has promoted fear, she has taught love,” former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and native Texan Julián Castro wrote. “Her boundless hope and fearless compassion have earned her the moniker of ‘the Pope’s favorite nun.’ Sister Pimentel will keep changing the world, one act of kindness at a time.”
Arussi Unda – Icon
Activist Arussi Unda is the spokeswoman of Mexico’s feminist collective “Brujas del Mar” which helped mobilize the protests that raised awareness about the violence against women across the country. Unda hails from Veracruz, Mexico where femicides rose almost 300% to 159 in 2019. She used her voice to fight for the voiceless calling for the national women’s strike on March 9 of this year that led millions of women to stay home as a reminder of the importance of the roles they have in society.
“Arussi insists women are the gatekeepers of our crumbling country, yet we are the ones being assassinated, raped, disappeared, bought and sold by traffickers,” wrote Mexican investigative journalist Lydia Cacho. “Hers has now become part of a bigger movement across the country calling for an immediate stop to inequality and violence against women. Arussi is unstoppable with her pro-diversity-feminism call for peace: just what Mexico needs right now.”