Every year, from September 15th to October 15th, the United States celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time when we as citizens recognize and appreciate the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to our country’s culture, science, and history. Hispanic Heritage Month is rich with historical significance, and regular readers of this blog know all too well that I never miss an opportunity to gush about history! So, in honor of this national month, I’d like to share a few extraordinary individuals whose lives and accomplishments have made our country a better place.
Here are 5 Hispanic heroes your students should know!
Born in 1931, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno made her Broadway debut at age 13 and built an award-winning career in the years that followed. Moreno has appeared in dozens of films, TV shows, and stage plays. However, she is perhaps best recognized for her performance in West Side Story. The film (which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Picture, and Moreno herself was awarded Best Supporting Actress. In fact, Moreno is one of only three people (and the only Latina) to ever achieve the PEGOT title: having won a Peabody, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award!
Cesar Chavez has long been recognized as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. Born in Arizona to a Mexican American family, Chavez spent his early life as an agricultural laborer. This experience meant he was no stranger to racism and prejudice. After serving several years in the United States Navy, Chavez would go on to create the National Farm Workers Association alongside another civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta. Together, they led peaceful protests to improve the lives of migrant workers. Though Chavez would receive criticism in later years, his activism radically improved the lives of agricultural workers. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom one year after his death.
Sonia Sotomayor began her life in a New York City housing project but would eventually work her way up to a place on America’s highest court. A Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, Sotomayor knew she wanted to be a lawyer at an early age. She committed herself tirelessly to education, graduating valedictorian from her high school and earning a full scholarship to Princeton University. After many years of serving in the courts, Sotomayor would make history as the first Hispanic American to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Since then, she’s played a part in many significant legal cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges, Flowers v. Mississippi, and Department of Commerce v. New York.
Juan Felipe Herrera spent his early life living in tents and trailers. The child of Mexican migrant workers, Herrera’s childhood experiences would go on to foster his love for writing and the arts. After graduating college, Herrera dedicated himself to the creation of community art. His literary work also struck a chord with the public. Herrera’s publications would eventually expand to include fourteen collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. Though his work would earn him countless accolades, Herrera is perhaps best known for becoming the first Mexican American U.S. poet laureate!
Being an astronaut takes intelligence, creativity, and grit. Ellen Ochoa certainly has all those and more! Born in Los Angeles, California, Ochoa began her pursuit of science at San Diego State University. She graduated with a bachelor’s in physics, and later from Stanford University with a master’s in science and a doctorate in electrical engineering. Her impressive work caught the attention of NASA, who recruited her for their upcoming missions to space. In 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space. She would go on to complete three more missions and later became the director of Johnson Space Center. To this day, she remains a vocal advocate for women in STEM.
Now it’s Your Turn!
Need ideas for ways to use this information in class?
- Read these descriptions aloud as short story times during a transition between subjects.
- Do your students know what countries are considered Hispanic? See how many they can name!
- Place pictures of these heroes around the room. Ask students to read the descriptions and match them to the hero.
- Have students choose one of these heroes to make a short YouTube or TikTok video about.
- Find books on Hispanic Heritage Month. Add them to your classroom library!