In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from September 15 to October 15, we've rounded inspirational Latino role models you'll be excited to tell your kids about.

By Nicole Harris
Updated September 22, 2020
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National Hispanic Heritage Month is an American observation honoring the cultures and contributions of people with ancestors from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Spain, according to the official website. Perhaps the best way to celebrate with kids? Telling the amazing stories of famous Latinos who've helped shape our nation's rich history.

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We've rounded just a few of our favorite inspirational Hispanic heroes, with help from Naibe Reynoso, author and founder of Con Todo Press. The Latin-owned publishing company has written two books—Be Bold! Be Brave! 11 Latinas who made U.S. History and Fearless Trailblazers: 11 Latinos who made U.S. History—that detail the lives of influential Latinos. Geared for children aged 5 to 8, they include colorful illustrations and simple rhyming verses.

The heroes featured in the books come from diverse backgrounds, and they found success in many different career paths. “We don’t glamorize any one career,” says Reynoso, adding that they wanted to introduce kids to journalism, activism, muralism, and more. All of the people in the books—as well as the ones listed below—can serve as inspiration to all children for their hard work, success, and desire to make a difference in the world.

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As the first Latina Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor has served since August 8, 2009. Both of her parents were born in Puerto Rico.
 
According to Parents.com reader Eliana Pilar Kaimowitz, "This Supreme Court Justice became a lawyer when there were few women and people of color in the profession, and she thrived by finding inner strength and resilience. I want my son and daughter to know that they’ll be on the right path as long as they choose for themselves, without letting stereotypes define them."

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Cesar Chavez is perhaps one of the most well-known labor leaders and Latino American civil rights activists of all time. Among his biggest accomplishments was founding the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta. It later became the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor union, and it relied on nonviolent methods to improve the lives of migrant American farmworkers. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Evelyn Cisneros made history for being the first Latina prima ballerina in the U.S. As a Mexican American, she's  played Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and countless other roles. Evelyn is an especially good role model for kids because “there’s not a lot of Latinas in ballet, and they’re ‘hidden figures,’ so to speak,” says Reynoso.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda is a man of many talents, and his resume includes actor, singer, lyricist, composer, playwright, and producer. He created two Broadway musicals—In the Heights and Hamilton—and starred in both of them. He also wrote music for Disney's Moanaappeared in Mary Poppins Returns, and more. 

As Parents.com reader Yarilyn Perez says, "The Broadway legend is a hero to all Latinos, shattering stereotypes about us and showing the world that inclusion is powerful. I tell my son: 'See that guy who has Puerto Rican roots like you? He has a Genius Grant. You can absolutely accomplish that too.'" 

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Lisa Fernandez will surely inspire the aspiring athlete in your household! A Puerto Rican-American, she started her softball career as a right-handed pitcher for the UCLA Bruins, where she won two National Championships and was selected as a four-time, first-team All-American. Fernandez also received the Pan American Gold medal three times, and she won three Olympic gold medals for softball (in addition to breaking several Olympic records, such as the most strikeouts by a pitcher in one game). She’s often touted as one of the greatest female athletes of all time.

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Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Oscar de la Renta took the fashion world by storm. He designed haute couture collections for world-renowned fashion houses (including the house of Balmain) and dressed several American first ladies, socialites, and celebrities. Today, his legacy lives on through his signature ready-to-wear collection, which includes women's evening wear, women’s suits, and bridal gowns.

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Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina in space in 1993. The engineer and former astronaut was a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery.

"My daughter is fascinated with Mexican culture and our solar system, so who better than Ellen Ochoa, the former director of the Johnson Space Center?" says Parents.com reader Rosa Lora. "She is a Mexican-American woman who became the first Latina astronaut in history."

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. He rose to fame for his informal graffiti in Manhattan’s  Lower East Side. Soon, his neo-expressionist paintings gained popularity, and they were featured in museums and galleries across the world. Basquiat’s paintings used social commentary about many opposing issues, such as integration vs. segregation, control vs. spontaneity, and wealth vs. poverty.

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Today, several musicians blend American and Latino culture (we’re looking at you, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira!) But Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was one of the first. “She navigated both cultures, Spanish and English, seamlessly,” says Reynoso. Selena is recognized as one of the most influential Latina artists of all time, and the Mexican-American entertainer is often referred to as the "Queen of Tejano music.”

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We’ve yet to have a Latino president, but Julián Castro came close. The politician ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in 2019,  he served as the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017. In fact, Castro was the youngest member in President Obama's Cabinet. 

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Not only was Antonia Novello the first woman to become Surgeon General of the United States, she was also the first Latina to serve the role. Throughout her career, the Puerto Rican physician also held the titles of vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the Commissioner of Health for the State of New York. Novello’s research focused largely on pediatrics, organ transplants, AIDS, smoking, underage drinking, women’s health, and the health of minorities.

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Nothing can stop this award-winning journalist, who was born in Mexico City. Your kid might recognize her from platforms like CNN, NPR, PBS, CBS, and WNBC. Through her community-based multimedia work, she strives to give a voice to the experience of diverse Americans, which she felt was often overlooked by traditional media. 

During her 30-year career, the  been the host and executive producer of the Peabody Award-winning show Latino USA on National Public Radio; the founder, president, and CEO of Futuro Media Group; anchor of a talk show called Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One; and more. She’s also won numerous awards, including the the 2012 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Radio Award, and four Emmys. 

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A professional baseball player, Fernando Valenzuela hails from Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. He played for six teams in Major League Baseball—but he’s probably most known for his success with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He served as a left-handed pitcher with the Dodgers for 11 seasons. Valenzuela won both the Rookie of The Year award and the Cy Young Award in 1981—the first baseball player to win both in the same season. That might explain why a craze known as “Fernandomania" captivated Dodgers fans in the early 80s!

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Singer Celia Cruz first gained popularity in the 1950s in Cuba. After she left her home country during the Cuban Revolution, she became an international star for her Afro-Cuban music style. In fact, Cruz was often referred as to the "Queen of Salsa" in America, and she was a well-known figure for the Cuban community in exile. 

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Not only is Eva Longoria a well-known actress (starring in hits like Desperate Housewives), she's also an author, activist, and businesswoman.

According to Parents.com reader Julissa Bonfante, "She is one of the most intelligent, articulate, and beautiful Latinas of our generation. She is a powerhouse and puts her money where her mouth is. She uses her clout in politics and entertainment to elevate the Latino community."  

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