Dolores Huerta, an American labor rights activist, has said that “every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” This Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate Latinx activists from different Latin American heritages, who have made it their life’s work to advocate for social justice, organize movements, and, like we encourage our students: build a more just world.
Julia de Burgos (February 17, 1914 – July 6, 1953)
A poet and civil rights activist, Julia de Burgos was an Afro-Caribbean woman from Puerto Rico. In 1936 she was elected Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom for the women of Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico). Her collections of poetry are largely rooted in place and explore themes love, her homeland, women, oppressed people, and creating the self. In one of her poems, she writes: “I am life, strength, woman.”
From West Harlem and just 22 years old, Daphne Frias is now the New York State Director of March for Our Lives, a gun violence prevention organization that rose from the Parkland school shooting. As a person living with Cerebral Palsy, Daphne is an advocate for disability rights, particularly on how the climate crisis will disproportionately affect disabled communities. Daphne also advocates for climate justice, and in 2019 helped Greta Thunberg organize the Climate Strikes in New York City. Check out her tips for being a better ally to people with disabilities here.
When she was just five years old, Cruz ran past a crowd in D.C. to meet Pope Francis. She wanted to deliver a note asking to keep her undocumented parents, immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, from being deported. At 9 years old, Cruz has become the face of DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, further advocating for a stop to deportations of immigrants like her parents.
Domitila Barrios de Chúngara (May 7, 1937 – March 13, 2012)
Bolivian, working class, woman, activist, writer, mother, miner’s wife—Domitila Barrios de Chúngara was a labor rights activist and pioneer for intersectional feminism. She founded the Housewives’ Committee of Siglo XX with 70 other wives as they advocated for better working conditions at mines and demanded to be hired for work. A revolutionary, Barrios de Chúngara wrote about her struggles as a working-class woman in the memoir Let Me Speak!
A Mexican activist for transgender and immigrant rights, Jennicet Gutiérrez received national attention in 2015 when she interrupted former President Barack Obama during a celebratory dinner of LGBTQ accomplishments. She demanded he stop all deportations and the abuse of detained trans women. Jennicet is a founder of La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, which like much of her activist work supports trans folk, particularly women, detained because of immigration status.
Hailing from Guadalajara, Mexico, Bamby Salcedo is the President and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, a LA-based organization formed by trans Latinx immigrant leaders to advocate for trans Latinx immigrants in the U.S. She has advocated for HIV prevention, health education, mass incarceration, and immigrant reform. In 2015 Salcedo organized 100+ transgender activists, disrupting the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference, to protest violence against transgender people.
Gwen Ifill (September 29, 1955 – November 14, 2016)
Gwen Ifill was a television news anchor, journalist, and author. She was of Panamanian and Barbadian heritage. In 1999, she became the first Black woman to host a nationwide televised public affairs program in the United States, paving the way for journalists of color. Ifill advocated for greater diversity within journalism/politics and in 2008 published The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. She worked for The Washington Post, New York Times, NBC, and PBS, and became the first Black woman to moderate a vice presidential debate.
In 1992, K’iche’ activist Rigoberta Menchú, received a Nobel Peace Prize for her life’s work: advocating for indigenous rights in Guatemala and globally. Her work began as a teenager when she joined the women’s rights movements in Guatemala and later, the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC). IN 1981 she went into exile in Mexico, began her career of organizing and leading a resistance abroad. Rigoberta is a testament that change can happen from anywhere as long as you’re willing to keep fighting.
Annie Segarra, a.k.a Annie Elainey
From Miami, Florida, Annie Elainey rose to popularity on YouTube as an artist and activist for LGBTQ and disability rights. When diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome at 26, she began vlogging her experiences on her YouTube channel. Her activism centers accessibility for all, body positivity, LGBTQ +, and greater representation for BIPOC communities. She created the T-Shirt she is photographed wearing after attending the Women’s March in 2017 and feeling that it lacked visibility/accessibility for disabled individuals.
Tara Rodríguez Besosa
Tara Rodríguez Besosa is a Puerto-Rican based architect, organizer, food sovereignty activist, and founder of “El Departamento de la Comida” (The Department of Food), a project started in 2010 as a multi-farm CSA (community supported agriculture). She is also the co-founder/co-director of El Fondo de Resiliencia de Puerto Rico (The Puerto Rican Resilience Fund), started after hurricanes Irma and María. It is a 24-month action plan aiming to help 200 sustainable food projects. It focuses on: Renewable Energy, Reforestation, Rainwater Collection, Seeds and Soil, and Community Wellbeing.
By Gianna Baez, Yale University Class of 2021. Gianna is a KIPP NYC alum and a KIPP Foundation 2020 intern