Role models are kind of what makes this world go 'round. After all, chasing after someone and their overall awesome-ness is how you become the best version of yourself, am I right? I always think about that saying: "If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room." People who can teach you a thing or two are vital, and I would like to think part of that education includes activism, whether it be through a person, written word, or the whole d*mn planet. Need inspiration? Check out these Latinx activists changing the world at this very moment.
And with National Hispanic Heritage Month kicking off on Sept. 15, there is no better time than yesterday to get to know these women — an epic group that includes authors, a mental health advocate, a journalist, and even a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The good news about role models? You get to choose the people who inspire you to create a movement of your own, whether it be in a rally of hundreds, or at home, nurturing the growing minds of your little ones.
But one thing is for sure: You're going to want these Latinx activists at your side — no matter the room you find yourself standing in.
1. Sandra Cisneros
The Mexican-American author released The House On Mango Street in 1983, a coming-of-age novel that, through the voice of main character Esperanza, depicts the ways in which the Latinx community is treated as second-rate. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cisneros has said that Esperanza: "allowed me to speak, to name that thing without a name, that shame of being poor, of being female, of being not quite good enough, and examine where it had come from and why, so I could exchange shame for celebration."
In addition to writing, Cisneros has helped to foster the careers of aspiring and emerging writers through two non-profits she founded: the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation. In 2015, former President Barack Obama awarded Cisneros the National Medal of Arts.
2. Diane Guerrero
You might know her as Litchfield's Maritza Ramos on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, but Guerrero is also an activist for Latinx issues. In 2017, Guerrero began advocating for a museum devoted to Latino history and culture. She has also authored two books. In the first, In the Country We Love, Guerrero reveals her experience with having her undocumented parents deported to Columbia when she was just 14 years old. My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope, is Guerrero's second book, where she aims her story at teens and young adults.
3. Dior Vargas
The Latina mental health activist is the creator of People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project, Vargas' response to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness. For the project, Vargas asked participants to submit pictures of themselves holding up signs that not only identified their mental health condition (e.g. depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, etc.), but who they are outside of their conditions.
Vargas is also the editor of The Color of My Mind, a photo essay book based on the photo project.
4. Maria Hinojosa
The Mexican-American, award-winning journalist and creator of the "In The Thick" podcast, created the Futuro Media Group in 2010 as a means for lending a voice to the diverse American experience, including that of the Latinx community. Hinojosa's Futuro Media Group produces Latino USA, "NPR’s only national Latino news and cultural weekly radio program," according to Futuro's website.
5. Princess Nokia
New York-born Princess Nokia — also known as Destiny Nicole Frasqueri — is an Afro-Puerto Rican rapper and a musician who uses her platform as a way of not only exploring her own heritage, but bringing awareness to the Latinx community. After performing at the 2016 Afro-Latino festival in Brooklyn, Princess Nokia told Latina magazine:
"It’s important for people to identify as Afro-Latino and to come to spaces like this … to demolish the racism and segregation that still exists in modern Afro-Latino and Caribbean countries. I think once we start reclaiming these special things about our Afro-Latino culture, the things that make up our differences, it gives us a light to open up to ourselves, culturally."
Princess Nokia also founded Smart Girls Club, a radio show where she and co-founder Arianna Maya Gil discuss "what it means to be urban feminists supporting each other creatively and emotionally," according to NPR.
6. Bianca Jagger
The 30-year veteran activist established The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF) in 2007. The organization's website noted that it is "dedicated to defending human rights, ending violence against women and girls, addressing the threat of climate change, supporting the rights of indigenous peoples, and defending the rights of future generations."
Born in Nicaragua, Jagger told the Guardian of her legacy: "I hope I was able to make a difference. That’s all we can hope for. That I can look back and say I tried."
7. Sylvia Mendez
While you are likely familiar with the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, there's a good chance you haven't heard about Mendez v. Westminster, the case that started it all.
In fact, it was seven years prior that then-9-year-old Sylvia Mendez's class action lawsuit was the catalyst for a 1947 decision by a California court that ruled segregation of school children was unconstitutional, the American Immigration Council noted. Mendez and her family filed the suit after she was turned away from a school that was for "whites only," the United States Court's website said.
In 2011, Mendez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama.