Since 1968, Latinx communities have been celebrated in the United States in the fall. Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) pays tribute to the contributions and culture of Latinx and Hispanic people. To commemorate the occasion, here are 54 of the most influential Latinas in history. They’re famous revolutionaries who have shattered barriers and proven time and time again that “Sí, se puede” (“It can be done” or “Yes, we can”), a term coined by Latina civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.
These women have made strides in civil rights, politics, entertainment and even gone to space. We’ve included the woman who wrote the original lyrics to Puerto Rico’s national anthem, the Latina who helped fight to desegregate the school system and the famous Latina author who was the first person from Latin America to win a Nobel Prize. Furthermore, it was a Latina who helped farmworkers receive U.S. labor rights, a Latina who was the first female Surgeon General and a Latina who is one of the all-time greatest female golfers. Read on to learn about the achievements and contributions of these 54 influential Latinas.
50+ Influential Latina Women in History
1. Dolores Huerta
Huerta is a civil rights activist and labor leader. She worked tirelessly to ensure farmworkers received US labor rights and co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez. Huerta, 92, coined the term “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, we can”) in 1972.
2. Sylvia del Villard
The actress, dancer and activist was outspoken about discrimination. She established the Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater to showcase Black Puerto Rican culture. In the 1970s, she spoke out about the racism faced by Black artists, including racist casting practices and limited opportunities for Black actors.
Estefan is one of the most beloved performers in Latin music history (and in music history in general). During her legendary career, Estefan sold over 100 million records, landed 38 #1 hit on the Billboard charts, and won seven Grammys. She’s also an actress, songwriter, author of two New York Times best-selling children’s books and a humanitarian.
4. Joan Baez
The musician used her contemporary folk music to create songs of protest about social justice. Baez has performed publicly for over 60 years, releasing over 30 albums. She sang “We Shall Overcome” at the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.
5. Maria Hinojosa
Hinojosa, a Mexican-American journalist, is the anchor and executive producer of Latino USA, a public radio show devoted to Latino issues. She helped launch Latino USA in 1992 and has also worked for CNN, as well as written two books. The journalist also hosted her own show for five years on PBS, Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One, an interview talk show.
6. Nely Galán
Galán is an independent producer and a former President of Entertainment for Telemundo. She created and produced the Telemundo reality television program La Cenicienta, incorporating English subtitles in the program to reach both Spanish and English-speaking audiences, helping it to become one of Telemundo’s highest-rated programs in its 50-year history.
7. Claudia Paz Y Paz
Paz y Paz was the first female Attorney General in Guatemala. She made history by prosecuting a head of state for genocide in national court and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, philanthropist, actress and fashion designer is one of the bestselling Latina artists of all time. Thalia, known as the Queen of Latin Pop, has had 29 Top 10 singles (15 of which went to No. 1) and has sold more than 50 million records. She’s also known as the Queen of Telenovelas for her run as the lead in popular Mexican soap operas such as Marimar, María la del Barrio, and María Mercedes in the ’90s.
9. Felisa Rincón de Gautier
Felisa Rincón de Gautier, known as Doña Fela, she was the first woman elected as mayor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which made her the first female mayor in the Americas. She participated in the suffragist movement and transformed San Juan.
10. Lola Rodríguez de Tió
She was the first Puerto Rican-born female poet to gain fame across Latin America and penned the original revolutionary lyrics to “La Borinqueña,” Puerto Rico’s national anthem. She was committed to abolishing slavery and creating equality for women. Her political actions created issues with the Spanish authorities and she was exiled from the Island.
11. Linda Alvarado
Alvarado is both the first Latinx female co-owner of a major league team and the first woman ever involved in a formal bid for ownership of a Major League Baseball team (the Colorado Rockies).
12. Nancy Lopez
Lopez is one of the all-time greatest female golfers. She was the best player in the game from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The golfer won 48 LPGA Tour events, including three championships.
13. Dr. Antonia Novello
Dr. Novella was the first woman, the first person of color and the first Latinx to be appointed U.S. Surgeon General. She was appointed by George Bush and held the role from 1990-1993.
14. Ellen Ochoa
Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut to go to space. She served on the nine-day mission aboard the Discovery and went on to become the first Latinx director of the Johnson Space Center.
15. Sonia Nazario
Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent her celebrated career at the Los Angeles Times. This is where she covered social justice and immigration issues with a focus on how these factors impact children who immigrate to The United States from Central America.
16. Isabel Allende
The prolific Chilean novelist is believed to be the world’s most widely-read Spanish-language author. Many of her books involve the magical realism genre. One of her most celebrated titles, The House of the Spirits, intersects at the crossroads of mysticism and political unrest.
17. Laura Esquivel
The Mexican author made history with her first novel Como Agua Para Chocolate which became a bestseller and was developed into an award-winning blockbuster film. Esquivel is also a politician for the Morena Party.
18. Celia Cruz
The Cuban songstress is the undisputed Queen of Salsa! La Guarachera de Cuba was one of the most popular Latinx artists of the 20th century and was the first Latina to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.
19. Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Sotomayor is the first Latinx U.S. Supreme Court Justice and the third woman to serve as an Associate Justice in the high court. She was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009.
20. Rita Moreno
Moreno is one of few entertainers to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (the EGOT!). The actress, singer and dancer has been performing for over 70 years and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
21. Eva Perón
Lovingly known as Evita, Eva Perón was the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. She served as the First Lady from 1946 until her untimely death in 1952. She was outspoken about trade unions and labor rights. She ran the Ministries of Labor and Health and fought for women’s suffrage. Perón founded Argentina’s first large-scale female political party, the Women’s Peronist Party.
22. Frida Kahlo
The world-renowned Mexican painter’s work is celebrated for her heart-wrenching self-portraits that focus on themes of miscarriage, heartbreak and political torment. Kahlo began painting as a coping mechanism while she was recovering from a traumatic accident that left her with severe injuries for the remainder of her life.
23. Virginia Brindis de Salas
Brindis de Salas is the first Black woman in Latin America to publish a book. The 1947 title Pregón de Marimorena discussed the exploitation and discrimination against Black women in Uruguay.
24. The Mirabal Sisters
Patria, Minerva, María Teresa, were three Dominican sisters who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and were actively against his regime. Their sister, Dedé Mirabal, kept her distance from this resistance movement against El Jefe, aka Trujillo. Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa were assassinated due to their part in the resistance on 25 November 1960. Posthumously they became symbols of feminist resistance. The United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor.
25. Felicitas Méndez
Felicitas Méndez was a civil rights pioneer. She took on the board of education in the landmark Méndez vs. Westminster desegregation case that paved the way for Brown vs. Board of Education.
26. Carolina Herrera
The Venezuelan fashion designer has one of the most celebrated careers in the industry. Her elegant dresses have been worn by many First Ladies including Jacqueline Onassis, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
27. Gabriela Mistral
Lucila Godoy Alcayaga was a Chilean poet known by her pseudonym Gabriela Mistral. She was the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.
28. Selena Quintanilla
The Queen of Tejano Music received many accolades in her tragically short life. Her 1990 album, Ven Conmigo, was the first Tejano gold record, selling over 500,000 albums and eventually going double platinum. The singer was the first Tejano female artist to win Best Mexican-American Album for Live! at the Grammys in 1993. Dreaming of You was released after her death and hit the top of the Billboard Top 200 in 1995, making it the first album by a Latina to hit number one.
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29. Jennifer Lopez
J.Lo was the first Latina to be paid 1 million dollars for a movie role when she played Selena Quintanilla in the 1997 biopic about Quintanilla, Selena. She joined Shakira to perform during the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show—the first time the two Latina singers have graced that stage together.
The Grammy-winning singer made her recording debut with Sony Music Colombia when she was 13. Her name is Arabic for graceful—a fit name for this powerhouse performer. Her music and dance is influenced by her Lebanese and Columbian heritage. She’s also a humanitarian—her foundation, Barefoot, helps Colombian children leave violent situations.
31. Silvia Olivas
Olivas was the first Latina ever to win an Emmy for scripted writing. She took home the award for writing Elena of Avalor, Disney’s first Latina princess show.
32. Jennifer Barreto-Leyva
Barreto-Leyva is the first Latina plus-size model and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Revista Belleza XL, the first and only magazine for plus-size Latinos worldwide.
33. Leonora Carrington
Carrington was one of the most important surrealists. She lived in Mexico City and was a key participant in the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. The artist was also a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico.
34. Raquel Welch
The Bolivian actress and singer won a Golden Globe Award and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was celebrated by the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for her positive promotion of Latinx heritage.
35. Lupe Serrano
The ballerina was the first Latina principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. Serrano later became the principal ballerina and has danced in more than 50 roles.
36. Lucía Topolansky
Lucía Topolansky, a former Tupamaro (someone associated with the Tupamaros, a Marxist-Leninist urban guerrilla group in Uruguay) became the first female Vice President of Uruguay in 2017. During her time as a Tupamaro, Topolansky was arrested twice, served 13 years in prison, and was often tortured. She helped legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage in Uruguay.
37. Gabriela Isler
Gabriela Isler, aka Miss Universe 2013, uses her beauty queen fame to raise awareness about the political turmoil in Venezuela. She is the seventh Miss Universe from Venezuela. Isler’s charity, Universe of Blessings Fund, is devoted to female empowerment projects.
38. Rigoberta Menchú
Menchú, a Guatemalan human rights activist, advocates for the rights of Indigenous people and educates her community on how they can combat oppression. Her social justice work was recognized when she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
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39. Soledad O’Brien
Award-winning journalist O’Brien anchors her namesake nationally syndicated weekly political show, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien. She’s one of the most influential Latinx voices in media and owns the multi-platform media production company, Starfish Media Group.
40. Christiana Figueres
As the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Olsen is one of the most prominent voices on the climate crisis. She’s responsible for insisting on the passage of the 2015 agreement which led to governments around the world pledging to sign a new international agreement to restrict the emission of greenhouse gases as well as aid vulnerable countries as they adapt to climate change.
41. Gloria Anzaldúa
Gloria Anzaldúa was a scholar of Chicana feminism, cultural and queer theory. She was known for being inclusive of Chicana women (American women of Mexican origin or descent) and for fighting segregation. Her essays are foundational texts in the burgeoning field of Latinx philosophy. She co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color which was one of the first books to place women of color at the center of the feminist conversation.
42. Berta Cáceres
The award-winning Indigenous environmental activist led a successful grassroots campaign opposing a proposed dam on the Gualcarque River. The river is sacred to the Lencas people and her efforts protected her tribe’s access to water, food, and medicine. Her assassination in 2016 sparked global outrage and brought attention to the high rates of environmentalist deaths.
43. Lizzie Velásquez
Velásquez, a motivational speaker, advocates for Latinx people with disabilities. She was born with a rare congenital condition that has many health effects including the inability to gain weight. She was bullied online and rose above the horrific comments to become an anti-bullying advocate.
44. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan
A vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. government, especially for transgender people of color, Freedman-Gurspan was the first openly transgender person to work at the White House where she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the primary liaison for LGBTQ issues.
45. Sandra Cisneros
The award-winning author is a key figure in Chicana literature. She’s a poet, short story writer, novelist and essayist. Her work centers around activism and Latinx culture including her celebrated story, The House on Mango Street.
46. Chita Riva
One of Broadway’s most celebrated stars, Riva is a triple threat; she’s a dancer, actress and singer. She was the first Latina to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and won two Tony Awards.
47. Sylvia Rivera
Rivera was a transgender rights activist. She fought to add “T” to LGBTQ+ and was a major voice and activist during the Stonewall Inn uprising. She was a community organizer in New York City and co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) which helped LGBTQ+ homeless youth and joined protests with the Gay Liberation Front.
48. Zoë Saldaña
The Afro-Latina actor, director and producer has had an immensely successful career with many celebrated roles. She uses her fame to raise awareness about the queer community and the importance of diverse representation in Hollywood.
49. America Ferrera
Ferrera is an actress turned activist. She’s involved in many charities that benefit at-risk children and she co-founded Harness, an advocacy organization that aims to connect communities through conversation to inspire action and power change. She often lends her voice to support Democratic politicians and recently launched She Se Puede with Eva Longoria to create a space where Latinas can tell their stories.
50. Eva Longoria
The beauty pageant contestant turned award-winning actress has had a wildly successful career in Hollywood, including producing several shows. She’s politically active and was the co-chair for President Barack Obama’s re-election. Longoria is dedicated to supporting immigrants and is known to speak out against anti-immigration legislation. She founded the Latino Victory Project to encourage the Latinx community to get out and vote.
51. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
The congresswoman is known by her initials, AOC. She’s the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Congress and she’s the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. AOC is a champion for legislation that benefits workers, women, and immigrants. She’s outspoken about the climate crisis and sponsored the Green New Deal.
52. Sofia Vergara
The Colombian comedian is the highest-paid actress on TV. She was nominated for Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG awards for her role as Gloria Pritchett on ABC’s Modern Family.
53. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
The groundbreaking politician was the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Congress. She was also the first Republican in Congress to support the marriage equality act.
54. María Elena Salinas
Salinas was a female anchor on U.S. television for 30 years, a record-breaking professional accomplishment. She was called the “voice of Hispanic America” by The New York Times and was the first Latina to receive a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.
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