Hispanic Heritage Month takes places every year in the United States from September 15 to October 15. The month honors the contributions of the group to American society and celebrates the achievements of its most accomplished members.
From Congress to the Supreme Court, here are 10 Hispanic trailblazers who have left their mark on U.S. politics.
Sonia Sotomayor made history when she was appointed as the first Hispanic and third woman on the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009 by President Barack Obama, and her oath-taking ceremony was the first one to be broadcast live on television. The daughter of Puerto-Rican parents, Sotomayor was born in the Bronx and attended Princeton University for her undergraduate studies and Yale University for law school.
Julian and Joaquin Castro
Twin brothers Julian and Joaquin Castro are rising stars in the Democratic party. Julian was mayor of San Antonio, Texas before getting tapped by President Barack Obama to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also ran for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, his brother Joaquin has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2013, where he represents Texas’ 20th district and is also the Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Joseph Marion Hernández
As the first Territorial Delegate to represent Florida and later as the first Hispanic member of Congress (1821-1823), Hernández made history twice. The son of Spanish immigrants, he was educated in Savannah, Georgia and later in Havana, Cuba.
Since her start in politics, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a popular voice for the left in U.S. politics. In 2018 she pulled off a surprise primary win after challenging Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in her New York congressional district, and when elected, became the youngest person elected into the House of Representatives that year. Commonly referred to by her initials, AOC co-sponsored the Green New Deal package and is an advocate for immigrants’ rights and common-sense gun reform.
In a career that spanned decades, Romualdo Pachecho served the state of California in the state Senate and in the United States House of Representatives. In 1875 he also served as governor of California, becoming the first California governor to be born in the state, the only governor to be born in California prior to its statehood, and the country’s first Hispanic governor.
While Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Florida) may be the first names that modern-day Americans think of when asked to name Hispanic presidential candidates, they are not the first Hispanics to throw their name in the ring for the highest office in the country. Republican Ben Fernández, who was born to undocumented Mexican immigrants in Kansas, worked as a financial consultant before announcing his candidacy for the Republican party's nomination in 1978. He appeared on the ballot in 18 primaries, though ultimately Ronald Reagan won the nomination and subsequently the presidency.
Though Republican Octaviano Larrazolo (New Mexico) became the first Hispanic Senator after being elected in 1928 to fill an unexpired term, it wasn’t until 1936 that Democrat Dennis Chávez (New Mexico) became the first Latino to serve a full term in the United States Senate. In the 1940s, he worked for the prohibition of all racial and ethnic bias by attempting to pass a bill for the establishment of a Fair Employment Practices Commission.
Luis Muñoz Marín
Considered the father of modern Puerto Rico, in 1963 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work as the first democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico in 1948. He was subsequently reelected in 1952, 1956, and 1960, and spearheaded economic, political, and social reforms during his time in office, including the drafting of the Constitution of Puerto Rico to provide more autonomy to the island.
Antonia C. Novello
After working for two decades at the National Institutes of Health, in 1990 Dr. Novello became the first Hispanic and the first woman to serve as the Surgeon General of the United States. After her tenure, she was the Commissioner of Health for the State of New York, was a special representative for health and nutrition for UNICEF, and was a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.