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Hispanic Heritage Month

A look at influential people throughout history

By Andrea Valdez

Broadcast News Director

Text graphic by Sorayda Rivera and Andrea Valdez

Hispanic Heritage Month began as a month of observance on Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to recognize the accomplishments and influences of the Hispanic community in the U.S. According to the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, it originally began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson but was later changed to a whole month during Ronald Reagan’s term in 1988. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, let us honor some influential Hispanic figures in entertainment, science, politics and important historical events.

History: Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez was born in Santa Ana, California, in 1936. When she was a child, Mendez was forced to attend a Hispanic institution instead of being allowed to attend a white school, which had access to better supplies and offered more opportunities. Before Brown v. Board of Education, there was Mendez v. Westminster, which helped pave the way for desegregation in schools. The ruling for the case stated separation of Hispanic students was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment. After finishing high school, Mendez attended the University of California Riverside and continued her work in activism. In 2011, Mendez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former president Barack Obama for her advancement in civil rights and education for Black, Indigenous and people of color. She lives in California but has since retired.

Politics: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Elected in 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez works to serve the working class and those whose voices have been silenced by government. Before becoming a congresswoman, Ocasio-Cortez grew from humble beginnings and when tragedy struck her family after her father’s death, she worked to support her family as a waitress and bartender after graduating from Boston University.
In the span of a year, Ocasio-Cortez went from bar tending to becoming one of the youngest congresswomen. In 2016, she worked as a volunteer organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. She continues to share her platform of activism for equal rights and advocacy for environmental and economic justice.

Science: Ellen Ochoa

NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa became the first Mexican-American woman to go on a nine-day mission to space. Ochoa grew up in La Mesa, California, and attended Stanford University, earning her doctorate in electrical engineering. She began working for NASA in 1988 and in 1990 she was chosen to become an astronaut, making history as the first Hispanic to go to space. According to the NASA website, while working at NASA, Ochoa earned the Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in federal government.
Ochoa currently resides in Texas with her husband and two children.

Entertainment: Eugenio Derbez

Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Eugenio Derbez dominates in entertainment not only as an actor and comedian in front of the camera, but also as a filmmaker behind the camera.
Derbez is most notably known for his work in Mexican comedy TV shows. His most iconic role is as the Cruz Azul-loving patriarch Ludovico P. Luche in the show “Familia P. Luche.”
Derbez has also starred in movies such as “Bajo la Misma Luna,” “Instructions Not Included” and “Overboard.” He has also done voiceover work for cartoons, guest starring as Ronnie Anne’s father in the Nickelodeon spin-off show “The Casagrandes.”

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