Create a more inclusive classroom with more diverse representation
by Gabby Cushman
This December, we’re focusing on celebrating the Latinx community and the diverse identities that exist within it. Since the term “Latinx” represents a much larger group of different cultures, races, and languages, it can feel overwhelming to break this down for kids, especially those outside of the Latinx community. A great way to help students understand the diversity within this community is by talking about real-life examples of influential Latinx individuals. You can discuss these change-makers in the areas of science, activism, entertainment, politics, and more. To help you get started, we’re highlighting five examples of Latinx heroes to inspire your learners. Hopefully, this will help you create a lesson celebrating these Latinx leaders!
#1- Ellen Ochoa, The First Hispanic Woman in Space
On April 8th, 1993, Ellen Ochoa rode abroad on the Discovery shuttle as the first Hispanic woman to go to space. She stayed there for nine days conducting crucial research on the Earth’s ozone layer. After this historic trip, she went on an additional three trips into space, spending a total of 1,000 hours there in her time as an astronaut. Ochoa retired from space travel in 2007 and went on to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In 2013, she became the first-ever Hispanic (and second-ever female) director of the Johnson Space Center!
#2- Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, American Labor Leaders
Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which eventually merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become what is now known as the United Farm Workers (UFW). Both Chavez and Huerta were leaders in the labor movement, fighting against injustice towards migrant workers in the southwest area of the United States. They helped organize the successful Delano grape strike from 1965 through 1970, which fought against the exploitation of predominantly Filipino farm workers by table grape growers. Chavez often encouraged “direct but nonviolent” approaches in protesting, including pickets and boycotts, to pressure farm owners and hopefully push them to grant strikers’ demands. Huerta is credited for originating the phrase "Sí, se puede" and was the first Latina to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
#3- Joan Baez, Legendary Singer-Songwriter
Joan Baez is not only an iconic folk singer with over 30 albums to her name, but she has also been a prominent social justice activist for most of her life. This activism started after she attended a Martin Luther King Jr. speech and was incredibly moved by him. She later befriended King and got heavily involved in the civil rights movement. In 1963, Baez performed the song “We Shall Overcome” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, permanently linking herself to the song from then on. Along with being a civil rights activist, Baez was a vocal part of the anti-war movement, especially during the Vietnam War. She additionally supported prison and death penalty reform, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental advocacy.
#4- Lin-Manuel Miranda, Broadway Superstar
Many of your students are probably already familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda! He initially made his Broadway debut in 2008, starring in the musical In the Heights, for which he also wrote the music and lyrics. This led to him writing the script, music, and lyrics for Hamilton, the history-based musical that became a cultural phenomenon in 2015. It also earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won 11 Tony Awards. Hamilton was a gateway for Miranda to start working in other creative fields off-Broadway. He wrote the story and music for Disney’s Encanto, which became a huge commercial success and landed Miranda his first number-one song on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” As a member of the Latinx community, he has been highly vocal about the U.S. supporting Puerto Rico. He met with politicians in 2016 to speak in favor of debt relief for Puerto Rico and, in 2017, raised funds for disaster relief after Hurricane Maria.
#5- Sylvia Rivera, Venezuelan-Puerto Rican Trans Activist
Often credited as “the person to put the ‘T’ in LGBT activism,” Sylvia Rivera dedicated her life to helping LGBTQ+ people, ethnic minorities, the unhoused, and more. She co-created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) organization with another queer activist Marsha P. Johnson, who allegedly threw the first brick during the Stonewall riots. STAR provided homes for trans people living on the streets of New York in the 1970s. Sylvia’s Place, a domestic violence safe house and shelter, was named in her honor, along with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP). The SRLP is a legal aid organization that assists low-income or people of color who identify as trans or gender diverse.
These are just a few examples of some Latinx heroes who have made a difference in the world. Let their stories inspire your young ones to create change in their own lives and communities!
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