September 15 through October 15 is Latinx Heritage Month (also known as Hispanic Heritage Month), a time to pay tribute to the contributions of Latinx people to society and culture. At Ellevest, we’re celebrating the contributions of women+ in particular — the career trailblazers, the founders of businesses, the fighters for equality.
There are so many — which is especially powerful when you consider how damn hard it is to blaze those trails, start those companies, and lead those fights while dealing with the widest gender pay gap of all. Latina Equal Pay Day doesn’t take place until October 29 this year. If paid fairly, it’s estimated that the average Latinx women would make an extra $1.1 million over her lifetime.
Today, we’re sharing 14 inspiring Latinx women+ who have worked to build new things, make their place, have a voice, and disrupt money.
1. Beatriz Acevedo
CEO of Suma Wealth and co-founder of mitú
Beatriz Acevedo knew from a young age that she had something to say — she was 8 years old when she became a radio disc jockey in her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico. Since then, she has used her voice to advocate for the Latinx community in every aspect of her work. That work includes co-founding Suma Wealth, a financial wellness company, and mitú, a digital media brand. It also includes speaking engagements, like a White House summit on Latinx women in the economy. It includes being a digital producer who has won three Emmys. And it includes being president of the Acevedo Foundation, which supports various arts and culture programs and provides scholarships for students who lack financial access to higher education.
“I am very passionate about career development for female Latina leaders, so any opportunity I have to bring them into the boardroom or into my most high-level meetings with other CEOs, founders, or investors, I do it.”
2. Jessica Alba
Founder of The Honest Company, actor
As a child growing up in Biloxi, Jessica Alba suffered through several illnesses. But she also landed her first acting role at age 13. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for “Dark Angel” by the time she was 19 and quickly became a movie star, known for her roles in “Fantastic Four” and “Sin City.” After the birth of her first child in 2008, she had an allergic reaction to a “baby-friendly” detergent and realized that her daughter could be at risk. So she founded The Honest Company. The FDA bans only a few chemicals in the US, but more than 1,300 chemicals are banned in Europe. Alba’s household products are free from all of them. The company’s social goodness program has also donated more than 22 million products, including 3 million diapers to families during the pandemic. Alba believes that success includes “diversity, inclusion, and giving women a seat at the table.” (BIG YES.) “The only way to do all of that is to stand for something.” Her approach to business clearly working: The Honest Company has grown sales to $350 million this year.
“When you feel like, in order to be successful, you have to leave your good character or your values at the door, that’s such an old-school way of looking at capitalism. And I think it’s just a really tired model.”
3. Pura Belpré
First Latina librarian at the New York Public Library
Storyteller, puppeteer, author, and librarian, Belpré was born in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and planned on becoming a teacher there — but in 1920, she was recruited by the NYPL while attending her sister’s wedding in New York City. As a children’s librarian, she traveled from borough to borough telling stories in both English and Spanish, something that had never been done before. In addition to her own original stories, she also translated many Puerto Rican folktales into English and published them as children’s literature. In 1982, the same year she passed away, Belpré received the New York Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture, and the Pura Belpré Award for children’s books was established in 1996 in her honor — awarded to writers and illustrators whose work best celebrates their Latinx culture.
“To appreciate the present, one must have a knowledge of the past.”
4. America Ferrera
Actor, producer, philanthropist, and Hillary Clinton’s friend (nbd)
“Why should I have to compete with every other brown woman just because somebody says this is the amount of pie we’re willing to give you? I’m calling bull!” So says America Ferrera. You may recognize Ferrara from her starring role in the hit TV series “Ugly Betty,” where she made history as the first Latinx woman to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a comedy series. But what you may not know about is her instrumental role in advocating for women, immigrants, and Latinx people. She founded and runs the advocacy organization Harness.
“As a woman, as a Latina, I’ve always felt there’s a very narrow version of me that’s acceptable, that’s allowed to succeed.”
5. Nina Garcia
First Latinx editor in chief of a major fashion magazine
Nina Garcia grew up in Colombia in the 80s — a time and place, she’s said, when women were expected to have kids instead of a career. “My father had a big problem with that.” Instead, her parents sent her to school in the US, where an internship with Perry Ellis led to her first job in America as an assistant at Mirabella Magazine. In 2000, she was hired by Elle Magazine, and she eventually became fashion director. That’s when Garcia became a judge on this reality TV show you’ve probably never heard of (sarcasm), “Project Runway.” In 2017, Elle Magazine named Garcia editor in chief, making her the first Latina woman at the helm of a major fashion publication.
“I finally realized I brought something different to the table because of my background, because of my Latin American culture. That was a source of strength for me.”
Co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America Union
Dolores Huerta is an activist, feminist, and mother of eleven (!) who has spent more than 60 years fighting for the rights of others — specifically migrant farmworkers. For Huerta, there was no question about getting involved: “I said, ‘This is wrong,’ because you saw how hard they were working, and yet they were not getting paid anything.” Like many women in history, her crucial role in the 1960s labor movement received little to no recognition, but that changed with the release of the movie “Dolores” in 2017. Today, Huerta lives out her coined slogan, “Sí se puede,” with her ongoing advocacy and work with agricultural communities.
“It’s not only important for women but it’s important for our whole society that our stories be told and that our victories and our achievements be recorded in history.”
7. Cristina Junquiera
Co-founder of Nubank
Cristina Junqueira grew up in Rio de Janeiro, moved to Sao Paolo to get her master’s in economic and financial modeling, then attended the Kellogg School of Management in the US. When she returned to Brazil, she was hired by the country’s biggest private bank to lead a 20-person team at the age of 24. Her rise continued from there, but she wasn’t happy with the way Brazil’s finance industry worked — banks charged high fees and interest rates. So she and her co-founders decided to launch Nubank as an affordable, accessible alternative. Junqueira was doing funding pitches while seven months pregnant and closed her first round of funding from the hospital, days before giving birth. And her hard work has paid off: Today, the Sao Paolo-based company is valued at $10 billion (that’s ten times “unicorn” status, if you’re counting). Even better: 40% of Nubank’s employees are women and 30% identify as LGBT.
“You can’t dream of what you can’t see. I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they can dream of being whoever they want to be.”
8. Jennifer Lopez
Actor, dancer, musician, designer, producer, and businesswoman
Jennifer Lopez grew up in the Bronx, but always had showbiz dreams. (Alexa, play “Jenny From The Block.”) She got her start as a dancer in 1990, but shifted her focus to acting a couple of years later. In 1997, her first lead role — Selena, in the biopic of the same name — earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and also put her on the map as the first Latinx actress to earn over $1 million for a film. NBD. Since then, her career has flourished, to say the least. Her films have cumulatively grossed over $3 billion, and she’s had over 80 million record sales, was one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, and is largely regarded as the most influential Latinx performer in the US. Her latest film, “Hustlers,” a story of women on society’s margins, brought in $34 million its opening weekend.
“Little by little you chip away and break the mold of what people want to put you in. We have to support our community so that more things are made. It’s about us realizing our worth and value, banding together, supporting each other.”
9. Ellen Ochoa
First Latinx woman in space
Ellen Ochoa realized she could be an astronaut when she saw Sally Ride become the first woman in space in 1981 (representation matters). After getting her PhD at Stanford, she joined NASA as a research engineer, and applied to be an astronaut three times before finally getting accepted in 1990. Good call, because Ochoa’s career turned out pretty stellar. She made history in 1993 by serving on the Space Shuttle Discovery. After spending about 1,000 hours total in space, she moved on to become the second woman and first Latinx director of the Johnson Space Center in 2013. She’s also the co-inventor on three patents. Ochoa has received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal (NASA’s highest award), has six schools named for her, and was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I know that role models make a difference, and I take seriously that part of my career and life. For young Hispanic women, there are few well-known women in STEM fields, so it’s even more important to let them know about the interesting and rewarding careers that they can pursue.”
10. Sylvia Rivera
Trailblazer in LGBT — emphasis on the “T” — activism
After her father left and her mother died by suicide, 10-year-old Sylvia Rivera found herself alone on the streets of New York City. She spent her life in and out of poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness, forced into the margins by her unabashed refusal to abide by the gender norms of the time. She’s rumored to have thrown one of the first bricks during the Stonewall riots, which was an uprising — as Rivera emphasized frequently — fronted by trans women. “We were the frontliners. We didn’t take no shit from nobody. We had nothing to lose.” Alongside fellow gender-non-conforming activist Marsha P. Johnson, Rivera created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) organization, which provided shelter and community for homeless queer and trans people. She was an instrumental advocate for the homeless, the LGBTQIA+ community, and people of color until she died in 2002.
“We would always dream that one day [this harassment] would come to an end. … We wanted to be human beings.”
11. Maria Elena Salinas
Longest-running woman news anchor on US television
Maria Elena Salinas’ journalism career began in 1981 as an anchor, public affairs host, and reporter at KMEX-TV in Los Angeles. She went on to become a prominent voice for the Latinx community during her more than three decades at Univision, where she interviewed every US president since Jimmy Carter. She was one of the first woman journalists in wartime Baghdad, and she co-hosted the first Democratic and Republican presidential candidate forums in Spanish for the network. (Talk about a resume.) Salinas was dubbed the “Voice of Hispanic America” by the New York Times, and was the first Latinx woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. After she left Univision in 2017, she became a contributor for CBS News.
“I am grateful for having had the privilege to inform and empower the Latino community through the work my colleagues and I do with such passion. As long as I have a voice, I will always use it to speak on their behalf.”
12. Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court justice
Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a single-parent household in the Bronx. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton in 1976 — also receiving the university’s highest academic honor, nbd — and again in 1979 from Yale Law School, where she was an editor for the Yale Law Journal. Her degree and subsequent experience led her to become a US District Court judge in the Southern District of New York from 1992 to 1998, then serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals from 1998 to 2009. After being nominated by President Obama in 2009, Sonia became the first Latinx woman Supreme Court justice in United States history (!!). Since then, she has worked to protect and be a voice for women and minorities within the criminal justice system.
“There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested. Whether it’s serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths.”
CEO of Caribu
Born in Miami to Cuban-American parents, Maxeme Tuchman started her career with Teach for America in 2004. After getting a master’s degree in public policy and an MBA at Harvard and consulting for the likes of the Gates Foundation (no big deal), she became the executive director of Teach for America Miami. After that, she was appointed by President Obama as a White House Fellow at the US Department of the Treasury, advising on financial inclusion. She’s also been a winner or finalist in 30 different pitch competitions. She’s currently CEO of Caribu, an app that lets kids read or draw with distant family members. That describes pretty much everyone since the pandemic began, and the company has tripled in size since March 2020.
“When you’re Cuban-American, you’re born to immigrants, you’re a natural-born hustler, but you also have the responsibility from your history to do good in the world and make a positive impact.”
14. Yai Vargas
Founder of The Latinista
Born in the Dominican Republic, Yai Vargas moved to the US as a child. After getting a BS in marketing, she quickly found success in the corporate world when she realized her experiences as a Latinx woman made her uniquely valuable. She founded The Latinista in 2012 as a way to more easily bring together Latinx women seeking career advice and professional development. What started as a Meetup group has grown into a national network of women with chapters in New York, Chicago, and Miami. Their main focus? Teaching women how to negotiate for a raise, manage their money, and articulate their value as professionals.
“We need networks of women around us who know better than us. The smartest thing I ever did was sit next to someone and say, ‘Teach me.’”
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