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10 influential Hispanic Americans in U.S. politics

October 14, 2015 by Jonathan Stahl

 

HispanicAmericans_twitterNational Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, and is celebrated in part to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States. To honor Hispanic culture, and its impact on America, we look at 10 important Hispanic Americans in U.S. political life, past and present.

1. Jorge Ramos

Ramos is a Mexican-American journalist who anchors the Spanish language Univision nightly news, an English language news program, and was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. Known as “The Walter Cronkite of Latino America,” Ramos left Mexico for America at 24 after the Mexican government censored a critical story he produced, and he became a U.S. citizen in 2008.

Having co-moderated presidential debates, interviewed world leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and been an outspoken pro-immigrant voice, Ramos will continue to be a major figure in Hispanic-American life.

2. Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Obama in 2009, Justice Sotomayor was on the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and an instructor at New York University School of Law and Columbia Law School.

Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican-born parents, Sotomayor was in the majority in two major Supreme Court landmark rulings in the last term: King v. Burwell and Obergefell v. Hodges.

3. / 4. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio

The two senators share a lot in common: both have parents that emigrated from Cuba, made names for themselves in the Senate after being elected in 2010, and are now contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

Before arriving in the Senate, Cruz clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and was the Solicitor General of Texas, while Rubio was the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. As two of the three Hispanic Americans in the Senate—the other being Robert Menendez of New Jersey—Cruz and Rubio bring to light the role of Hispanic Americans in national politics.

5. / 6. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Representative Joaquin Castro

These identical twins were born to a Chicana political activist who instilled in them the importance of public service and their Mexican roots. After they went to Stanford University and Harvard Law School together, Joaquin was a representative in the Texas legislature until being elected to the House of Representatives in 2013. Julian was Mayor of San Antonio, Texas from 2009 to 2014, until he was nominated by President Obama to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Both have made waves in American politics, and there is speculation that Julian could be tapped for the vice-presidential spot on the 2016 Democratic ticket.

7. Ellen Ochoa

Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman in space, and has logged nearly 1,000 hours in space since her first mission in 1993. She is the co-inventor on three patents for optical inspection systems, was the head of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and is currently the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

8. Eva Longoria

Longoria is best known as an actress, but she also has a master’s degree in Chicano Studies and is deeply involved in advocacy and nonprofit work. The Eva Longoria Foundation supports Latina entrepreneurship through micro-loan programs; funds STEM extracurricular activities and mentorship for Latina students; and raises awareness on a national stage about issues relating to Latina education.

Longoria has worked to expand opportunities afforded to the Hispanic-American community through testimony before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and speeches at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference.

9. Luis Muñoz Marín

Marin was a politician who was called the “Father of Modern Puerto Rico.” He was the first democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico when Congress granted the territory the right to elect its own governor, and was reelected in 1952, 1956 and 1960. He fought to rapidly expand economic growth in Puerto Rico, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 for his work.

10. Antonia C. Novello

Dr. Novello was the first woman and the first Hispanic to become Surgeon General of the United States, after serving for 2 decades at the National Institutes of Health. As Surgeon General, she focused on the health of young people, women and minorities, and spoke out against drinking, smoking and drug abuse.

After serving in that role, Novello worked as UNICEF’s special representative for health and nutrition. She also became a visiting professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public health, and was the Commissioner of Health for the State of New York.

Jonathan Stahl is an intern at the National Constitution Center. He is also a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in politics, philosophy and economics.

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