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Latinos Shine in All Spheres of American Life

From politics to the arts, to science and sports, discover these influential Hispanics

Julia Álvarez

En español | Born in New York, she was raised in the Dominican Republic until 10, when she returned to the United States. Her immigrant experience steered her toward literature: “Not understanding the language, I had to pay close attention to each word.” In 1991, she published her first book, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Her work, written in English, encompasses novels, poetry and children’s books.

Jeffery Allan Salter/Corbis Outline

Judith Baca

From 1976 to 1984, this Chicana artist oversaw the creation of “The Great Wall of Los Angeles,” a half-mile of regional history. In 1976, she created the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), where she continues her role as artistic director. A professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Baca is the driving force behind the creation of some 500 murals in Los Angeles. 

Robert Gauthier/LA Times

Mario J. Molina

Corecipient of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995 for his research on the effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. A professor at the University of California, San Diego, he also heads the Centro Mario Molina in Mexico City, which spearheads the search for clean and sustainable ways to satisfy the global demand for energy.


Rita Moreno

A versatile artist, this native of Puerto Rico won all four major entertainment awards — Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy — in a span of 16 years; of these, her 1962 Oscar-winning performance as Anita in West Side Story stands out. In 2004, she was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2009, the National Medal of the Arts.

Bill Reitzel/Corbis

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem

They shared the silver screen for the first time in Bigas Luna’s 1992 film Jamón, Jamón, but their romance would not blossom until nearly 20 years later. The couple, who married in 2010 and have two children, are the only Spanish actors to have won Oscars — in addition to a combined collection of Goya, Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards, to name a few.

Matt Sayles/AP Images

Carlos Santana

Born in Mexico, this guitar virtuoso moved to San Francisco in 1961, where he developed his distinctive style of rock fused with Latin, jazz and blues. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this humanitarian and social activist has sold more than 90 million records and has 10 Grammys and three Latin Grammys.

Marc Royce/Corbis Outline

Gustavo Santaolalla

An Argentinian composer and producer now living in California, he has garnered multiple Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Gove and Grammy awards, most notably Oscars for best original score for Brokeback Mountain (2006) and Babel (2007). Listed by Time magazine among the top 25 most influential Latinos in the United States, he is a strong promoter of rock en español and neo-tango, a fusion of traditional tango with electronica. 

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis

Plácido Domingo

Born in Madrid but raised in Mexico, his repertoire includes more than 120 different roles. He currently serves as general director of the Los Angeles Opera. In 1993, he created the annual competition Operalia to further the careers of young singers. His many awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts and Mexico’s Aztec Eagle.

Victor Fraile/Corbis

Douglas Rodríguez

Born in the U.S. to Cuban parents, he is considered the driving force behind the 1990s Nuevo Latino culinary trend, a fusion of traditional Latin American cuisine with U.S. flavors and ingredients. In 1989, at age 24, he opened his first restaurant, Yuca, in Miami. In 2015, he closed De Rodriguez, his signature Miami Beach restaurant, but plans a new venture there soon. He still runs Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia. He has written four cookbooks and won multiple awards.

Cortesía de Westin Kierland Resorts

Carolina Herrera

Fashion Designer
A Venezuelan-born fashion designer based in New York, it wasn't until she was 40, in 1980, that she decided to launch her own fashion line; thus was born an empire that currently encompasses designer and ready-to-wear lines, perfumes, accessories, bridal gowns and an international chain of boutiques. Beyond her fame and awards, her clients include Michelle Obama, Renée Zellweger and Beyoncé Knowles.

Foto: Jonathan Skow/Corbis Outline

Jorge Ramos

Journalist and TV Anchor 
One of the most recognizable faces in Spanish-speaking America, he has anchored Noticiero Univision, Univision’s top-rated national newscast, since 1986, and has hosted a weekly news show, Al Punto, since 2007. Born in Mexico City, he has penned 11 books; his accolades include eight Emmy Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Award and the David Brinkley Award for Journalistic Excellence. 

Alan Diaz/AP Images

Ellen Ochoa

The first Latina to become an astronaut, she is a veteran of four space flights and today serves as the director of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Born in Los Angeles, she is also a pilot and classical flutist, and has three patents to her name. Her many awards include NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, Exceptional Service Medal and Outstanding Leadership Medal.

Foto: Cortesía de la NASA

Sonia Sotomayor

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice
Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, in 2009 she made history as the first Hispanic and only the third woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. When asked during her confirmation hearings to define her judicial philosophy, she simply replied, “Fidelity to the law.”

Getty Images

Gustavo Dudamel

Orchestra Conductor 
With characteristic passion, this Grammy winner serves as director of both his native Venezuela’s Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Recognized for his virtuoso talent as well as his humanitarian work, in 2013 he created the Dudamel Foundation to foster music education and work for social justice worldwide. 

Getty Images

Oscar De La Hoya

Boxing Champ   
Known as the "golden boy” since his 1992 Olympic gold win, he has followed in the tradition of his father and grandfather, both Mexican boxers, earning titles in six weight divisions and becoming one of the top earners in boxing history. After retiring from active boxing, he has remained a powerful presence in the sport through his company, Golden Boy Promotions.

Rune Hellestad/Corbis

Cecilia Muñoz

White House Policy Director
Her role as director of the Domestic Policy Council is the latest in several she has held in the Obama administration. Born in Detroit of Bolivian parents, she has earned recognition — including a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” —  for her work on immigration policy and civil rights. 

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP Images

Marco Rubio

A Cuban American born in Miami, he was elected to the Senate in 2010 after eight years in the Florida House of Representatives. Young and conservative, he is viewed as a rising star within the Republican Party and was rumored to be on the short list for Mitt Romney’s VP choice during the 2012 presidential election. 

Roll Call/Getty Images

Mónica Lozano

Chief Executive Officer of ImpreMedia
Since 2010 she has headed ImpreMedia, the leading publisher of Spanish-language newspapers and magazines in the U.S., including La Opinión, founded in Los Angeles in 1926 by her grandfather, Mexican journalist Ignacio E. Lozano. An influential community leader, she also sits on the boards of the Walt Disney Company and Bank of America, and on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.


Loretta and Linda Sánchez

Democrats from California, in 2002 they made history as the first sisters ever elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. Of Mexican heritage, they are both strong advocates of education, health and economic issues; but while Loretta is known for her leadership in military and national security issues, Linda serves on the House Ethics and the Ways and Means committees. 

Susan Walsh/AP Images

Anthony Romero

Executive Director of the ACLU
A lawyer by training, Romero, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, became the first Latino and first openly gay leader of the American Civil Liberties Union just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His work at the ACLU has tackled racial equality, religious freedom, gay rights, reproductive rights and personal privacy issues.

Foto: Washington Post/Getty Images

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