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Boomers The Generation That Changed the World #boomers50

30 Inspiring Latino Boomers Who Led the Way

These influential men and women changed how we live and see the world

Influencing the World

En español | Latino boomers set out to change the world — and not always for fame, but for the common good. In recognition of all U.S. Hispanics who have stepped forward, whether in health, finance, the arts or community action, we present 30 who have made the world a better place.

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Judy Baca (b. 1946)

A kindergarten teacher gave her an easel and paint, changing her life. Since 1974, the Chicana muralist, community arts pioneer and professor has used that gift of art to transform the young lives, Los Angeles streets and the community at large. Millions of her pupils’ brushstrokes now portray the teens’ and the city’s multicultural history on The Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, a testament to the enduring power of art — and Baca — to create positive change.

Courtesy of The Social and Public Art Resource Center

Fernando Bujones (1955-2005)

Winning the gold medal at the 1974 International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria was a turning point in his career and set the stage for other U.S. male dancers who — until that point — were rarely hosted behind the Iron Curtain. Prior to his death at age 50, Bujones, born in Miami to Cuban parents, continued his global impact by choreographing for and developing the next generation of dancers.

Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013)

There are two chapters in Latino American fiction: one before The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1990 — and one after. Hijuelos’ win, the first for a U.S. Hispanic, proved critical and made commercial success possible for U.S. Latino voices. In 2011 — just two years before his death — the Cuban American writer turned his attention to his most difficult subject: himself. His last book, a memoir called Thoughts Without Cigarettes, stands as a testament to inspire future generations.

Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Carlos Santana (b. 1947)

In 1969 — before the band’s first album was even released — Santana took to the stage at Woodstock and wowed festivalgoers with a powerful fusion of culture and music. Many Grammy awards and multiplatinum records later, the transcendent Mexican American star still tours and inspires: onstage, with his potent blend of jazz, blues, salsa and rock —  and offstage, with his Milagro Foundation, which supports youth in the arts, education and health.

Didier Baverel/WireImage/Getty Images

Emilio (b. 1953) and Gloria Estefan (b. 1957)

The four-decades-long romance and path to international superstardom of these Cuban-born stars are lined with 26 Grammys, multiplatinum albums and the kind of crossover success that paved the way for artists such as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. The couple are widely recognized for their philanthropic efforts and started the Gloria Estefan Foundation in 1997 to aid economically disadvantaged children and victims of spinal cord injuries.

CBS/Landov

Alfonso Cuarón (b. 1961), Guillermo del Toro (b. 1964) and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (b. 1963)

At the 2007 Academy Awards, these three Mexican directors (and friends) enjoyed the 16 combined nominations their films (Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth and Babel) garnered. The three amigos would exit stage left with four Oscars between them that evening and go on to direct global box office hits such as Gravity, Pacific Rim and Biutiful.

Nick Wall/WireImage/Getty Images

Antonio Banderas (b. 1960)

“I can do that.” Four words and some well-timed nods to feign English comprehension landed Banderas his first Hollywood role in The Mambo Kings in 1992. Today, at 53, the Spaniard epitomizes successful cultural crossover by Latinos on the big screen in the United States. Some of his blockbusters include The Mask of Zorro, the Spy Kids franchise and the animated Puss in Boots.

Gerald Holubowicz/laif/Redux

Sonia Sotomayor (b. 1954)

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor became a Supreme Court justice in 2009, the first Hispanic named to the highest court in the land. With an illustrious legal background and an unwavering connection to her community, she brings her impressive mind to bear on court decisions that will affect Americans for generations to come.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bill Richardson (b. 1947)

After a long career in public service, Richardson continues to use his formidable diplomatic skills to get results. He has led sit-downs with Fidel Castro, Taliban chiefs and even leaders of hermetically sealed North Korea. By spearheading negotiations between fractious groups abroad, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who is of U.S.-Mexican-Spanish ancestry, has shored up American stature internationally.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (b. 1952)

She’s a conqueror of firsts for Hispanic women: first in the Florida House of Representatives, first in the Florida Senate and first in Congress. Now she’s one of the first politicians making Spanish an essential part of today’s political conversation. On two occasions, the Havana-born Ros-Lehtinen delivered the GOP’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in Spanish.  

AFP/Getty Images

Cristina Saralegui (b. 1948)

The “Oprah” of Spanish-speaking media, Saralegui was the much-loved host of El Show de Cristina for 21 years. The Cuban-born mogul, now 66, embraced controversial issues in the Hispanic community. Equal parts entertainer and educator, she challenged her audience to think deeply about such subjects as LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS, before they were mainstream topics.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jorge Ramos (b. 1958)

As an anchor at Univision, Ramos is one of the most influential Hispanics in the United States — but that’s not enough for him. He’s breaking out of the box of Spanish-speaking media, just the way Hispanics as a whole are breaking out of preconceived roles. Ramos, who started his career in his native Mexico, wants all Americans to embrace him as a trustworthy news source.

KRT/Newscom

Maria Hinojosa (b. 1961)

As the longtime host and executive producer of NPR’s Latino USA, Hinojosa has given a voice to Hispanics, both figuratively and literally. The winner of numerous journalism awards, she has spent her career pushing issues important to Hispanics into the mainstream media and showing their relevance to the nation as a whole. In 2010, the Mexican-born journalist created the Futuro Media Group, a nonprofit multimedia initiative dedicated to telling the stories of overlooked and underrepresented people.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for HBO

Franklin Chang Díaz (b. 1950)

NASA’s first Hispanic astronaut tied the record of seven for space flights by an individual. Now 64, the Costa Rican-born Chang Díaz has become a science innovator. He promotes space technology across Latin America and spearheaded a study of Chagas disease in microgravity. His Ad Astra Rocket Company develops technologies ranging from plasma rocket propulsion to renewable energy systems to benefit rural farming communities worldwide.

Mayela Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Lydia Aguilar-Bryan (b. 1951)

A luminary in diabetes research, the Mexican-born scientist has spent years investigating this devastating disease, which affects over 25 million Americans, especially Hispanics. As the head of her own lab at the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Institute, Aguilar-Bryan has led research into in-utero changes in the pancreas that has the potential to vastly improve the lives of children with diabetes — or even keep the disease from developing.

Courtesy Aguilar Bryan

Ellen Ochoa (b. 1958)

After becoming the first Hispanic woman in outer space, it would be fine to call it a day, right? Not so for Ochoa, who after doing just that in 1993, continued to trailblaze. In 2012, she became the first Hispanic (and second woman) director of the Johnson Space Center. Under her leadership, the center conducts groundbreaking research at the International Space Station and, back on Earth, trains the next generation of astronauts.

Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

José Horacio Gómez (b. 1951)

The Mexican-born archbishop of Los Angeles has taken on his sacred role with gravity and confidence. When his predecessor, Roger Mahony, was shown to have protected clergy from prosecution for sex abuse, Gómez swiftly relieved him of his priestly duties. Goméz’s leadership and transparency have made him a powerful example to follow in the United States — both in and outside the church.

Reed Saxon-Pool/Getty Images

Monica Lozano (b. 1956)

Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, who founded the formidable newspaper La Opinión, Monica Lozano is making her own mark in journalism. As chairman of the board of US Hispanic Media Inc. and, until 2014, CEO of impreMedia, the Mexican American publisher has revolutionized the landscape for bilingual readers, betting big on readership in local and digital communities. A passionate advocate of voting power, she is also a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.   

 

Damian Dovarganes/AP Images

Robert Unánue (b. 1954)

Goya Foods has put its famous canned beans and other Latin staples on supermarket shelves all over the world, making it a household name. Under the leadership of CEO Unánue — who marks the third generation of his Spanish American family to lead the company — Goya has expanded into new markets with new products, generating billions of dollars in annual sales simply by making Latin American flavors available to kitchens everywhere.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

J. Mario Molina (1958), Martha Molina Bernadett (1963) and John Molina (1964)

Since the siblings’ father founded Molina Healthcare in 1980 to attend to the financially vulnerable, the business has grown into a Fortune 500 company operating in several states. In parallel, Martha’s Molina Foundation takes a forward-looking approach to childhood education, treating illiteracy as a health risk. This family shows that a community approach leads to success in business and beyond.

Courtesy Molina Healthcare

Joe Quesada (b. 1962)

In the last decade, comic book characters have had a pop-culture resurgence, and Quesada has played a pivotal role. Raised in Queens, N.Y., the son of Cuban parents, he rose from comic book writer and artist to chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment. As the producer of movies and TV shows such as Iron Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the 52-year-old continues to shape the stories we hungrily consume.

NY Daily News via Getty Images

Nancy Lopez (b. 1957)

One of the all-time greats of female golf, Nancy Lopez swung so cleanly during her first season (1978) that she remains the only woman to win Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average) in the same year. Over the course of her career, she won 48 LPGA events. Since retiring, the native Californian has repurposed her skill set into a successful second act — the Nancy Lopez line of golf equipment and apparel.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Edgar Martinez (b. 1963)

In the 1995 American League playoffs, the much-beloved slugger for the Seattle Mariners led his team to victory with a mythical performance. But it was his humanitarian work that made the New York native, son of Puerto Rican parents, a bigger hero. He has changed the sport by making giving back to others as much a part of the game as hitting the ball.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Douglas Rodriguez (b. 1965)

Douglas Rodriguez secured a delicious cultural legacy with the nickname “Godfather” of Nuevo Latino cuisine. Born to Cuban parents in Miami, Rodriguez took traditional Hispanic flavors, gave them a twist and catapulted them into the limelight. His successful restaurants and best-selling cookbooks revolutionized U.S. cuisine and empowered other Hispanic chefs to find their culinary voices.

NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Aida Levitán (b. 1948)

Arriving from Cuba in 1961 at 13, Levitán created her very own American dream. She became a pioneering force in Hispanic advertising, leading major brands to recognize and serve Latinos’ needs. Now she leads the nonprofit ArtesMiami, combining Hispanic culture and American entrepreneurship to champion the next wave of regional artists and organizations.

 

KRT/Newscom

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