7 Important People to Teach Students About During Hispanic Heritage Month

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Teachers, September is Hispanic Heritage Month! It’s always important to make sure your curriculum includes figures from many cultures and backgrounds. And now is a great time to highlight some of the Hispanic people who have made history.

We’ve put together a list of seven influential Hispanic figures to include in your curriculum during Hispanic Heritage Month. From human rights to scientific advances and charity service, each one stood for a cause that made the world a better place.

1. Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa is a veteran astronaut who, in 1993, became the first female Hispanic astronaut in space. To conduct important research about the ozone layer, she spent nine days aboard the Discovery space shuttle. Since then, Ochoa has served as the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center and NASA Director of Flight Crew Operations.

Ochoa was awarded NASA’s highest award—the Distinguished Service medal—for her work and, according to her NASA biography, has had six schools named after her. Check out the video below to learn more about Ochoa’s achievements in astronomy.

2. Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez was born in 1927 to parents who, after losing their farm during the Great Depression, worked as migrant farmers. To fight for the rights of people like his parents, Chavez organized a series of non-violent protests during the 1960s.

His most well-known protest was the Delano grape strike and boycott. For five years, more than 17 million Americans boycotted grapes to speak out against the mistreatment of migrant workers. Chavez continued his work through the rest of his life and is remembered as one of the most prominent Hispanic civil rights activists.

3. Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor is a judge who made history when former U.S. president Barack Obama appointed her as the first Latina woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. She is also the third woman to have served on the high court.

In addition to her legal justice work, Sonia Sotomayor has stood as an activist for Puerto Rican, women’s, and children’s rights. She has also written many children’s books on themes like bravery, feminism, and self-confidence.

“I have come to believe that in order to thrive,” said Sonia in her memoir My Beloved World, “a child must have at least one adult in her life who shows her unconditional love, respect, and confidence.”

This Sesame Street video can be a great way to introduce your students to Sonia Sotomayor’s work.

4. Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez was born to Puerto Rican and Mexican parents in 1936. From a young age, she was bright and had a strong appreciation for education. However, because of her Hispanic ethnicity, she was denied enrollment to a school that only accepted white children.

Her parents fought against this injustice in the landmark case Mendez v Westminster in 1947. After winning the lawsuit, all schools in California were desegregated, and Mendez has continued to advocate for every child’s right to education.

Fifth-grade teacher Tim Ramsay asked his students what Sylvia Mendez meant to them. He received several heartfelt responses, including this: “Students should know Sylvia’s story because they should know that they all have a voice, a chance to change anything, something like racism. We all have a BIG voice. If you want to say anything, say it.”

5. Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta grew up with a feminist mother and activist father who taught her the importance of fighting for what she believed in. She was passionate about protesting the mistreatment of farm workers and, in 1965, helped organize the Delano grape strike and boycott with Cesar Chavez.

She also founded United Farm Workers, a labor union which continues to protect the rights of U.S. farm workers. In recognition of her civil rights accomplishments, she became the first Hispanic woman inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

6. Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a transgender woman who fought for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the late 20th century. In 1969, she became one of the leading voices of the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests in response to anti-LGBTQ violence.

Rivera went on to co-found STAR, an organization which supported homeless transgender youth, and the Gay Liberation Front. She continued this work until her death in 2002 from liver cancer.

“We have to be visible,” Rivera said. “We should not be ashamed of who we are.”

7. Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente was not only the first Hispanic baseball player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was also an activist and community leader. As an athlete that many children looked up to, he believed he could use his career to make a difference in people’s lives.

“They said you’d really have to be something to be like Babe Ruth,” said Clemente. “But Babe Ruth was an American player. What we needed was a Puerto Rican player they could say that about, someone to look up to and try to equal.”

Clemente’s service extended far beyond his baseball career. He was passionate about helping children and often held free baseball clinics for low-income Puerto Rican children. He also was involved in charity work such as natural disaster relief.

Clemente died on a plane trip to provide relief for earthquake survivors. He is remembered as a role model for many—especially the Puerto Rican children he served.

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