As we near the end of 2021 the joke is that we’re still processing 2019 and we’re basically going into year 3 of the pandemic so it’s really no surprise to feel overwhelmed. While many of us approached 2021 full of hope, it quickly faded as the year kicked off in an unexpectedly awful way when Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the presidential election results, setting the tone for what has been a year just as challenging if not more so than the previous year. In part thanks to continued political division, a pandemic that continues to rage on and a society that is largely in the midst of a major identity crisis.
It wasn’t all bad though, and in the interest of keeping a positive perspective, we want to take the time to celebrate some notable achievements and significant moments that occurred within the Latinx community throughout 2021. We are doing big things and no matter what else is going on in the world, they should be recognized and remembered. What happens today has the power to change the course of history, and we believe Latinos are doing just that, and it’s never been more evident than in 2021.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the Inauguration
In January 2021, not long after the horrific Capitol insurrection, we got to see one of our own preside over one of the most important ceremonies in American history. Puerto Rican Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is the first Latina to ever have been appointed to the Supreme Court, swore in Kamala Harris, the new Vice President of the United States. Kamala also made history as the first woman, Black and Southeast Asian person to hold the office. It was incredible to see two powerhouses up there together, but truly a special moment for women and women of color especially.
Joe Biden’s Latinx-Stacked Cabinet
When President Joe Biden made it to the White House in January 2021, he brought in one of the nation’s most diverse cabinets to date. Included in that cabinet are four Latinos: Miguel Cardona, Education Secretary; Isabel Guzman, Small Business Administrator; Xavier Becerra, Head of Health and Human Services and Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security. This is especially noticeable since the previous administration began its term with zero Latinos in the cabinet.
Alex Padilla Becomes California’s First Latino Senator
Yup, you read that right. Despite the fact that California has a huge Latino population and was once part of Mexico, it didn’t elect its first Latino senator until 2021. Former California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla who is of Mexican descent, was chosen to replace Kamala Harris when she was elected into the vice presidency.
Deportations Were Paused
President Biden has not gotten it all right when it comes to immigration issues at this point, but he took a huge step in the right direction when shortly after his inauguration, he signed executive orders effectively pausing deportations during his first 100 days. The order has faced opposition and various challenges in multiple states, and many people have still been deported from the U.S. this year, but the order itself sent a powerful and loud message about the Biden administration’s stance on immigration and its support for the Latinx community.
Vanessa Guíllen’s Murder Inspired Change
When Army specialist Vanessa Guillén was killed back in the spring of 2020, no one could have predicted that her death would incite the sort of introspection and change in military policies that it has. After months of pressure from Vanessa’s family and the concerned public and service members, the military launched an internal investigation into the events that led to her murder. It resulted in everyone in her chain of command being fired and it put the spotlight squarely on the culture surrounding women in the military. The Army publicly admitted that Vanessa had been sexually harassed and later honored her by dedicating a gate at the military base in Fort Hood, Texas, where she was stationed when she was killed. Not only that, but Vanessa’s case inspired the “I Am Vanessa Guíllen Act,” which is intended to improve the Department of Defense’s response to sexual offenses, and is currently under review by Congress.
DC Ordered First Latino Superhero Movie
We also made strides in Hollywood when DC Comics announced it is set to produce the first-ever Latino superhero movie. Blue Beetle will mark a new milestone when it comes to Latinx representation in Hollywood, especially considering that Puerto Rican director, Ángel Manuel Soto, was tapped to direct the film and Mexican filmmaker Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer is writing the screenplay.
But First…We Got Latina Superheroes
Not long after the Blue Beetle news was announced, we found out that Marvel would actually feature two Latina superheroes in the film, Eternals, which came out on November 5, 2021. Salma Hayek and Lauren Ridloff, both of Mexican descent, made history with their roles in the film. “It’s kind of hard to be an action hero if you’re Mexican. It’s really hard to be an action hero if you’re a Mexican and a woman. But to be an action hero, being Mexican, a woman, and my age, it felt like they were punking me.”
Latina Scientists Made Strides in the Fight Against Covid-19
In 2021, Latinas continued to play prominent roles in the fight against COVID-19. From Latina scientists helping to create COVID tests and vaccines like Monica Mann, Elizabeth Zelaya and Connie Maza to good Samaritans like Oneyda Hernandez who started the Audelia Community Response organization to help Latinx immigrants gain access to important resources during the pandemic and beyond, Latinas have stepped into the role of changemaker in many instances throughout 2021.
Latinxs Dominated the Box Office
Latinxs were responsible for some of the biggest film releases throughout 2021. In a year during which Hollywood struggled to find its footing after dealing with massive production delays and theater closures in 2020, films like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights and Encanto, as well as the long-awaited West Side Story remake, drew attention to Latinx experiences in America and allowed us to see ourselves represented on the big and small screens more than ever before.
Natalie Diaz Became the First Latina to Win a Poetry Pulitzer
In June 2021, Indigenous and Latina poet Natalie Diaz became the first Latina to ever win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Her poem, Postcolonial Love Poem, which is a collection of works themed around identity and injustice, earned her the coveted award. “I was very emotional with this award and I think part of it is because when I set out to put the book together, I knew I wanted to be at stake,” Natalie said at the time.
Latinxs Dominated the Tokyo Olympics
Latinos and Latin American athletes were a force throughout the entirety of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which actually occurred during the summer of 2021 after being pushed back due to the pandemic. From Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas winning her country’s first-ever gold in a women’s event to South Carolina native Jasmine Camacho-Quinn winning Puerto Rico’s first gold medal in track and field, we made history during this year’s Olympics.
Target’s Latino Heritage Month Collection
In September 2021, Target introduced its first-ever Latino Heritage Month Collection, which is actually a huge deal. To have such a massive retailer recognize Latinx history and support Latinx businesses was a huge spotlight that’s rarely placed on us. It was awesome to see Latinx Heritage Month branding throughout the stores, but even more importantly, Target actually put the work in by highlighting and collaborating with Latinx small businesses and artists like Dominican-owned cosmetics company Luna Magic and Venezuelan artist, Reina Castellanos.
The Quintanillas & Chris Perez Made Up
Good news! I have amicably resolved my legal dispute with the Quintanilla family. Now that these issues are behind us, going forward, my hope, and the hope of the Quintanilla family, is for us to work together to continue to honor and celebrate the legacy of Selena.
— Chris Perez (@ChrisPerezNow) September 14, 2021
The late Selena Quintanilla’s husband, Chris Perez, and her family, have been on the outs for years, largely because the Quintanillas were reportedly blocking Chris’ efforts to produce a TV series based on the 2012 memoir he wrote, titled, To Selena, With Love. Selena’s dad, Abraham Quintanilla, sued Chris in 2017, claiming that after Selena died, Chris signed over all of his rights to Selena’s name and likeness to her estate, which he manages. But in September 2021, Chris tweeted that the dispute had been “amicably resolved.” Finally! There’s nothing worse than feuding with family.
We Met Disney’s First Latina Film Heroine
We absolutely could not wait for the latest Disney film, Encanto, to come out, and when it did, it did not disappoint! The film is about a Colombian family who has been gifted with magic that they use to keep their entire community thriving, but when that magic is threatened, Mirabel, who herself has no supernatural abilities, is the only one who can save it. The movie is beautiful and powerful, in part due to the fact that Mirabel is actually Disney’s first Latina heroine in a feature film, and also because of the way the film honors Latin culture and spirituality.
Bad Bunny Wins Big and Dominates the Global Music Scene
Puerto Rican musician Bad Bunny had an incredible year capped off by the news that he was Spotify’s most streamed artist internationally, for the second year in a row, beating out the likes of Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. This is significant for multiple reasons, including the fact that he didn’t even release a new album this year, but also because he is strictly a Latin music artist and does not perform in English or any other language other than Spanish. To be a Latin artist recognized on a global level is huge!
The Term “Latinx” Continued to Spawn Talks of Identity
In December 2021, the results of a poll conducted by the consulting firm, Bendixen & Amandi International, made headlines when it determined that the Latinx community is hugely divided by how we prefer to be identified. Up to 40 percent of the 800 individuals that were polled said that they are offended by the term “Latinx,” with the vast majority indicating that they prefer the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic.” The main reason we find this particularly notable is simply because the poll was even conducted. The fact that someone chose to invest time, money and resources into figuring out how to address members of our community in the most respectful way, means that they see us and they want to earn our trust. Regardless of what term we prefer, the poll itself proves that we have power and influence, and that recognition is a big deal.
New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in Puerto Rico for the First Time Ever
This year, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest, will feature a live broadcast from Puerto Rico, complete with a Spanish-language countdown, for the first time ever in the 20 seasons that ABC has been hosting the show. Puerto Rican actor Roselyn Sánchez will act as co-host and Boricua Reggaeton icon, Daddy Yankee, is set to perform and co-host. Including the Spanish-language broadcast is yet another nod to the ever-growing importance of the Latinx market in America, and further validates how important we are to American culture and of course, for the economy.