10 Latina Role Models You Might Not Know - But You Should

Collage-style graphic design celebrating remarkable Latina women
Luz Media

Latinas have been influential across many different fields, from politics and activism to entertainment and business. However, some remarkable Latina women haven’t been given their rightful place in history and in U.S. culture, despite being amazing examples of strength and empowerment. It’s time to correct that, so here are 10 Latina role models you may not know about:

Sylvia Mendez

Portrait of Sylvia Mendez

Photo by Los Angeles District USACE on Flickr

Sylvia Mendez, of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, is often overshadowed by other civil rights icons, but she played an important role in the fight for school desegregation. Her family's lawsuit against a California school district paved the way for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, leading to the desegregation of schools across the U.S. To this day, Mendez is an advocate for educational equality and social justice, so her work continues to bring positive change to the world.

Dolores Huerta

Portrait of Dolores Huerta

Photo by Tom Hilton on Wikimedia Commons

While Cesar Chávez is widely recognized for his work in the labor movement, Dolores Huerta's contributions are often overlooked. As a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, now the United Farm Workers, Huerta fought tirelessly for the rights of farmworkers. She advocated for fair wages and better working conditions by organizing collective actions like boycotts, banding the community together, and creating social justice initiatives. She’s also a champion of women’s rights and immigrants’ rights, so Huerta is the ultimate fighter for underrepresented groups.

Carmen Yulín Cruz

Portrait of Carmen Yul\u00edn Cruz

Carmen Yulín Cruz

Carmen Yulín Cruz is a Puerto Rican politician who served as the mayor of San Juan, the capital, from 2013 to 2020. During the devastating Hurricane Maria, she gained international attention due to her fierce advocacy on behalf of her people and her vocal criticism of the Puerto Rican government’s response. Cruz is known for her fierce leadership and has inspired many with her boldness.

Julissa Reynoso

Portrait of Julissa Reynoso

Wikimedia Commons

Julissa Reynoso is a Dominican-American with a thriving diplomatic career that has taken her from the United Nations to her current role as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra. She’s been a tireless advocate for human rights, women's empowerment, diversity, and economic development. Reynoso is known for exemplifying the importance of diplomacy in response to global issues and challenges.

Sandra Cisneros

Portrait of Sandra Cisneros

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Wikimedia Commons

Sandra Cisneros, of Mexican descent, is a renowned writer who has made important contributions to literature with her portrayals of the Latina experience. Her most well-known novel “The House on Mango Street,” was groundbreaking, and it’s become a classic in contemporary American literature. The book was also subsequently added to banned book lists throughout the country as right-wing extremists continued on their quest to make diverse perspectives and history illegal. Cisneros has a bold voice and presents a unique perspective, which resonates not only with readers of all backgrounds but also with aspiring writers who are heavily inspired by her.

Isabel Allende

Portrait of Isabel Allende

Photo by Jroses on Wikimedia Commons

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author known for her work in magical realism. Her novels are often based on her own experiences, mixed with historical events and elements like myth and realism. Allende is a world-renowned author known for overcoming challenges and breaking barriers in the industry. Moreover, her work champions strong female characters and often explores themes like social justice and political oppression, inspiring millions of people to speak up for what they believe in.

Zoe Saldaña

Portrait of Zoe Salda\u00f1a

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Wikimedia Commons

Zoe Saldaña is an Afro-Latino actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. She’s become a role model for Latina women due to her successful career in Hollywood and how proudly vocal she is about her Latinidad. Saldana is mostly known for her role as Gamora in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and Neytiri Sully in the “Avatar” movies, though she has been acting since 1999. She has starred in 4 of the highest-grossing films of all time, which is an impressive feat, especially for an Afro-Latina because Afro-Latinos are notoriously pushed aside in Hollywood.

Rita Moreno

Portrait of Rita Moreno

Photo by John Mathew Smith on Wikimedia Commons

Rita Moreno is a well-known Puerto Rican actress, singer, and dancer. She’s the only Latina who has obtained EGOT status, which consists of winning the 4 major entertainment awards in the U.S.; the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Despite facing racism in her Hollywood career and being held back by it, Moreno has found great success and continues to work to this day, proving that one’s passion and perseverance can defy the odds.

Sylvia Acevedo

Portrait of Sylvia Acevedo

Photo by Avery Jensen on Wikimedia Commons

Mexican-American Sylvia Acevedo was one of the first Latinas to earn a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University and one of the few female astronautical engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She’s an entrepreneur, businesswoman, investor, and rocket scientist known for championing STEM education for girls, and encouraging them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Her efforts have inspired countless young women, especially Latinas, to dream beyond the stereotypes and limited cultural expectations and pursue their passions.

Ana Maria Archila

Portrait of Ana Maria Archila

Ana María Archila

Ana Maria Archila is a Colombian advocate for women’s rights, worker justice, immigrant rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. She gained a lot of attention for confronting Senator Jeff Flake during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after being accused of sexual assault by several women. Archila is the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy and a passionate advocate for immigrant rights, economic justice, and political reform. Her courage and activism have inspired civic engagement as a way to shape society.

These 10 Latinas represent just a fraction of the countless women making a difference in their communities and beyond. Latinas deserve to see role models who look like them and understand their culture, and these role models deserve public recognition just as much as their white colleagues and counterparts.

an image of a girl in a first communion ceremony

I was inducted into the Catholic faith pretty much straight out of the womb, starting off at this Catholic primary school in Mexico when I was just six years old. I was pure Play-Doh back then, ready to be shaped and molded. There I was, learning the Holy Bible like it was basic arithmetic or the ABCs.

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