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Spotlighting Hispanic Figures

Writer: Mariajose Castillo

Editor: Veronica Yung

Graphic Designer & Artist: Janice Cheng

“We have to be visible. We are not ashamed of who we are.” – Sylvia Rivera

“Tenemos que ser visibles. No estamos avergonzades de quienes somos”-Sylvia Rivera

Ellen Ochoa

For many years in NASA, many women were rejected to join this institution, as they were told "We don't accept girls as astronauts,” but Ellen Ochoa would prove them wrong.

Ellen Ochoa was born in Los Angeles and grew up with her brothers and sisters in San Diego. Both of her parents were American, but her paternal grandparents were Mexican, born in Sonora.

Ellen was influenced by her mother's passion for study, who had pursued a degree in biology and business in San Diego. She would later decide to study physics at the same university as her mother but was still passionate about mathematics and music. She received a Master of Science degree from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering 4 years later.

During her doctorate, she was part of the NASA AMES research center, where she co-invented 3 optical systems. She became Nasa's AMES Research Division Chief of Intelligent Systems Technology where she continued to work with optical systems. But her dreams continued to grow and now she wanted to travel to space. She trained for several years until she participated in 4 space missions. On her trip aboard the Discovery spacecraft, in which she researched the Earth's ozone layer, Dr. Ellen made history, becoming the first Mexican woman astronaut to travel into space.

Later, in 2013, Dr. Ellen Ochoa became the first Mexican and second female director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

"There are no shadows, no fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space" A quote from one of her favorite books as a child, "Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.

Bernardo Alberto Houssay

Bernardo Houssay was born on April 10, 1887 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied at the National School of Buenos Aires, from which he graduated at the age of 13. Unfortunately, because he was so young, he was unable to study medicine at the time, so he enrolled in the School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry at the University of Buenos Aires. After graduating from this career, he decided to pursue his dream of studying medicine and graduated as a physician at the age of 23. But he had already begun to be successful before that, at the age of 21, he became one of the first professors of the physiology branch of the University of Buenos Aires.

In this institute of physiology, he began the research that would lead him to worldwide recognition.

Houssay noticed that all his diabetic patients had an overactive pituitary gland (an endocrine gland at the base of your brain which ​​controls metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure, and other vital physical functions.) He deduced that the hormones produced by the gland were responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. Further experimentation and research led him to the conclusion that if these hormones were balanced, diabetes could be controlled. For this discovery, he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1947, which made him the first Latin-American in Science.

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a great Puerto Rican trans leader and activist who fought for the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Sylvia was born in New York in 1951. She was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, but was abandoned by her father and suffered the suicide of her mother when she was only 3 years old. She lived with her grandmother after this but never had a good relationship with her since she liked to wear makeup and was feminine, so she ran away from home.

She was taken in by a group of drag queens and that's where her name "Sylvia" was born. At this time Sylvia identified as a drag queen because at the time there was no specific word to describe sexual identities that did not feel in line with the sex assigned at birth. “The terms "transsexual" and "transgender" began to appear in the mid-1960s and as terms in sexual pathology manuals."

Sylvia suffered greatly because in those days, LGBTQ+ people were not accepted and their rights were constantly violated, so in 1970, Sylvia founded, with Marsha P. Johnson, "STAR," a foundation to give shelter to those in need and prevent them from suffering as she did. They received LGBTQ+ people and gave them food, a roof over their heads, etc. This small foundation only lasted 1 year because it was difficult to pay the rent for the apartments where they sheltered people in need.

Sylvia also suffered within the LGBT community for being a woman of color. She not only fought against discrimination against her community but also against racial discrimination.

Sylvia was a constant activist for human rights. She fought for the LGBTQ+ community, for the visibility of trans people, and for the racial discrimination that existed in the United States.

“We have to be visible”. We have to show the world that we’re numerous” -Sylvia Rivera

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor's family moved from Puerto Rico to the United States in search of new opportunities. She was born in New York on June 25, 1945. She was raised by her mother after her father passed away when she was 8 years old.

She had an interest in law since her childhood, so she decided to pursue this passion and interest, studying law at Princeton University. Upon entering college, she found it difficult to understand the classes because of the language barrier, so she decided to take English and literature classes and took part in Puerto Rican groups that made her find her roots.

She graduated with top honors and opted to study for a doctorate in law at Yale. After finishing her studies she started working as a lawyer and decided to volunteer in agencies related to education and economics. Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney, prosecuting cases of robbery, homicide, police brutality, and child pornography. By 1984 she became a partner in the law firm of Pavia & Harcourt where she specialized in intellectual property matters.

Due to her great performance in her work, several representatives of the U.S. government noticed her intelligence, so George H.W. Bush nominated her as a district judge, which made her the youngest person to hold that position up to that time. Later, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Second Circuit, and in 2009 President Barack Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court, making her the first Puerto Rican woman to hold that position.

Likewise, by attending the swearing-in of Kamala Harris, she became the first woman to attend the swearing-in of the Vice President of the United States at the U.S. Presidential Inauguration in 2021.

Today Dr. Sonia Sotomayor continues to hold an important position in the United States, a U.S. magistrate judge, lawyer, jurist, professor, and politician who currently serves as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and is a strong advocate for immigrant rights.

“I do know something about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth” - Sonia Sotomayor.

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire was born on September 19, 1921, in Recife, a Brazilian province. Due to the Great Depression of 1929, he and his family knew poverty and hunger, so he was able to have a different perspective on life and this would lead him to be successful in the future.

He studied Law, Philosophy, and Pedagogy, but never practiced law. At the end of his studies, he preferred to teach Portuguese to high school students. It was at this time that he began to apply a different way of teaching. He liked the class to be guided by the students, by their interests, their doubts, and he loved a didactic lesson.

In 1961 he was named director of the Cultural Extension Department of the University of Recife and thanks to this position, a year later, he was able to apply his learning theories with a group of 300 sugar cane plantation workers, whom he taught to read in only 45 days.

Thanks to his success, the Brazilian government approved the creation of cultural circles throughout the country. Unfortunately, it only lasted 1 year, since in 1964 there was a military strike, and Freire was exiled to Bolivia. There he worked for 5 years as part of the "Movimiento Demócrata Cristiano por la Reforma Agraria" and the "Organización para la Alimentación y la Agricultura de las Naciones Unidas".

He published several books, the best known of which are "Education as the Practice of Freedom" and "Pedagogy of the Oppressed".

Paulo Freire was one of the most influential educators of the 20th century and to this day we see his legacy present, as we remember his battle for a better education.

"Education alone does not change society. But, neither does society change without it".

Rosalina Tuyuc

Rosalina Tuyuc is a Guatemalan human rights activist who has accomplished much for the people of her country and her community.

Due to the armed conflict in Guatemala (1960-1996), many people were kidnapped and disappeared. In 1982, Tuyuc's father was kidnapped and disappeared and three years later the same happened to her husband. This left her in great pain, but "As no government has committed to the victims of genocide to search for the disappeared, we women took a pick, an ax, to dig in the clandestine cemeteries and look for our fathers, husbands, sons," says Tuyuc in an interview with BBC News. That is why in 1988 she helped create "Conavigua" (National Coordinator of Widows of Guatemala).

With this foundation, Tuyuc searches clandestine graves for the bodies of people who disappeared during the armed conflict but also helps women to tell their stories and overcome the trauma. During this conflict many women were sexually enslaved by the military, many mothers lost their daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and friends. She helps women to break the silence so that justice is done and that those responsible for this are known. Thanks to this, light has been shed on many cases of violence against women in Guatemala, such as the "Sepur Zacro" sentence. This is the name of the community where there was "a military detachment that sexually enslaved, for six years, a group of Mayan Q'eqchi' women". Conavigua estimates that around 60,000 women suffered sexual violence during the conflict.

Tuyuc also helped bring an end to forced military recruitment in Guatemala, so that today many young people can enjoy their youth in peace. And if that wasn't enough, she also has a school for people of different ages, where she helps many indigenous people learn to read, write, and much more.

In 1994, Tuyuc was awarded the French National Order of the Legion of Honor for her humanitarian activities, in 1995 she was elected as a congressional deputy, and in 2004 she was president of the National Reparation Commission to investigate crimes committed during the civil war.

"I have witnessed the strength of women to face and overcome fear, to express their opinions and seek justice".

Celebrating every culture is important, it makes us proud of where we come from, and what better way to celebrate our roots than by learning about those who have made a difference in the world. May people as great as them inspire us to create a better tomorrow.




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