Sidney M. Gutierrez
The same year Sidney M. Gutierrez graduated from high school (1969), Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins landed Apollo 11 on the moon. It may have been a foreshadowing of his own career path, as Gutierrez would become the first U.S.-born Hispanic astronaut. He was also the first native of New Mexico to command a space shuttle mission. Gutierrez became a NASA astronaut in June 1985 following his studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy and Webster College. Over his career, he logged 4,500 hours of flying in airplanes, sailplanes, balloons and rockets. He has been awarded numerous honors, including the NASA Leadership Medal and the 1990 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Award.
Not even 10 years old, Sophie Cruz is a name to remember. In 2015, at age 5, she traveled to Washington, D.C. from Los Angeles with an activist group, the Catholic Delegation for Reform, to see Pope Francis. She got his attention, which allowed her to give him a letter that explained why her parents should be able to live in the United States. Sophie was born in the U.S. to undocumented parents from Oaxaca, Mexico. Since that day, she has been a proponent for DAPA, Deferred Action for parents of Americans. The letter prompted Pope Francis to suggest more acceptance for immigrants and refugees during his meeting with Congress. This led her to speak at the Washington Women’s March and Supreme Court hearings and meet former President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden. Sophie shows you’re never too young to have your voice heard!
October is LGBT History Month, so it’s as good of a time as ever to learn about Sylvia Rivera, the namesake of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Gutierrez was a Bronx native born to a Puerto Rican father and Venezuelan mother. She referred to herself as a drag queen, then later identified as transgender. At just 17 years old, she threw the second Molotov cocktail at the Stonewall riot in June 1969. She is now seen as a legendary trans activist, but was met with resistance within Gay Rights Movement of the ‘70s because she challenged leaders’ white, middle class approach to activism. Often working alongside trans activist icon Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera created safe spaces for all LGBT homeless youth and fought for early legislation to ban gender discrimination.
Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo
The title of first Hispanic American to serve in the Senate goes to Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo. Though he held many other roles as a politician, Larrazolo’s brief three months as a senator paved the way for other Hispanic Americans. Larrazolo was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in December 1859 and later became a U.S. citizen in December 1884 in light of a planned career as a lawyer. Though he would become a Republican senator for New Mexico, Larrazolo began his political career as a clerk in El Paso’s district court. He became involved in New Mexico’s Democratic Party, but later switched because he did not want to be involved with a party who didn’t actually believe in equality. Larrazolo, known for being an excellent orator and fairly controversial figure, championed Hispanic civil rights.
Helen Rodriguez Trias
It was natural for Helen Rodriguez Trias to be a doctor fueled by activism. Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, she attended the University of Puerto Rico where she was an activist for freedom of speech and Puerto Rican independence. She earned her medical degree in 1960 and established a center for newborns in Puerto Rico during her residency. Because of Trias’ leadership, the newborn death rate decreased by 50 percent in 3 years at the hospital. By 1970, Trias returned to New York, where she championed abortion rights and ending sterilization abuse. In the ‘80s, she was the New York State Department of Health Aids Institute. Later, in 1993, the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association. She once said: “I hope I’ll see in my lifetime a growing realization that we are one world. And that no one is going to have quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life.”