September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to pay tribute to the contributions of Latinx / Latine / Hispanic 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.
That there are so many 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 December 8 this year — which means that Latinas still make just 57 cents for every dollar made by white, non-Hispanic men. If paid fairly, it’s estimated that the average Latina would make an extra $1.1 million over her lifetime.
Today, we’re sharing 14 inspiring Latinas 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 eight years old when she became a radio DJ in her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico. Since then, she’s used her voice to advocate for the Latine community in every aspect of her work. That work includes co-founding SUMA Wealth, a financial wellness company, and mitú, a digital media network that has since become the largest Hispanic-focused digital channel in the world (2 billion (!) views per month). It also includes speaking engagements, like a White House summit on Latinas in the economy. It includes being a three-time Emmy-winning digital producer. 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 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. Pura Belpré
First Latina librarian at the New York Public Library (NYPL)
Storyteller, puppeteer, author, and librarian, Belpré was born in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and planned on becoming a teacher there. But in 1920, while attending her sister’s wedding in New York City, she was recruited by the NYPL instead. 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 died, Belpré received the New York Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture. Then in 1996, the Pura Belpré Award for children’s books was established in her honor and awarded to writers and illustrators whose work best celebrates their Latine culture.
“To appreciate the present, one must have a knowledge of the past.”
3. 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 Ferrera from her starring role in the hit TV series “Ugly Betty,” where she made history as the first Latina to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. But what you may not know about is her instrumental role in advocating for women, immigrants, and Latine 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.”
4. Nina Garcia
First Latine 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 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.”
5. Dolores Huerta
Co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America Union
Dolores Huerta is an activist, feminist, and mother of 11 (!) who’s 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.”
6. Cristina Junqueira
Co-founder of Nubank
Cristina Junqueira grew up in Rio de Janeiro, moved to São 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 São 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, 30% identify as LGBTQIA+ — and Junqueira has vowed the company leadership will be 50% women by 2025.
“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.”
7. Michaela Mendelsohn
Founder of TransCanWork, CEO of Pollo West Corp (El Pollo Loco), and inspiration for Laverne Cox’s character in “Orange is the New Black”
Michaela Mendelsohn has led more than a few lives. In the ’70s, she founded Games Unlimited, which became the largest coin-operated game company in California. Then she pivoted into fast-food ownership, franchising and owning a number of El Pollo Locos across the western US while also working on their national brand development. These days, she’s better known for her LGBTQIA+ activism: as a board member, committee member, and Lifeline volunteer with the Trevor Project; as the founder of TransCanWork, a program that pushes for trans inclusivity in California businesses and connects trans people with those workplaces; as a member of the Los Angeles Workforce Development Board; and as a Pride Parade Grand Marshal in 2018. But that’s never been enough — in her free time, she’s been the first trans contestant in the Ms. Senior California pageant and a Hollywood consultant, inspiring and helping craft Laverne Cox’s character Sophia in “Orange is the New Black.”
“All the social justice work I do really centers around seeing people in the transgender and non-binary community being able to live normal lives and not having to worry day to day about their survival.”
8. Dr. Ellen Ochoa
First Latina in space
Ellen Ochoa realized she could be an astronaut when she saw Sally Ride become the first woman in space in 1981. (See? 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 to be 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 Hispanic 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.”
9. Daniella Pierson
Founder of The Newsette, co-founder (with Selena Gomez!) of Wondermind
At Ellevest, we know how real the funding gap is. So does Danielle Pierson, the Colombian-American founder of The Newsette, a women-focused newsletter she started as a college student and grew over seven years — with zero VC capital. (Apparently one potential investor declined because she “reminded them of their granddaughter.” 😒) Today, The Newsette — which has since grown to include a creative agency — is valued at $200 million. Pierson, who speaks frequently about her struggles with OCD, ADHD, and depression, has also been a vocal mental health advocate, a passion that eventually connected her with Selena Gomez and her mother, with whom she co-founded mental wellness company Wondermind in 2021. Thatcompany just clinched $5 million in seed capital, including from Serena Williams’ VC firm, and is now valued at $100 million. Also? She just turned 27. 😮💨
“I URGE people with power and success to be more open about their mental fitness and setbacks … so people don’t count themselves out of being able to achieve their dreams because of some preconceived notion of what ‘success’ looks like. It can be anyone from anywhere.”
10. Sylvia Rivera
Trailblazer in LGBTQIA+ — 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 uprising, an event — as Rivera emphasized frequently — led 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 unhoused, 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. María Elena Salinas
Longest-running woman news anchor on US television
María 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 Latine 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 Latina to receive a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. After leaving Univision in 2017, she became a contributor for CBS News, then moved to ABC News earlier this year.
“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 — 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 Latina 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.”
13. Maxeme Tuchman
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 andan 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 Latina made her uniquely valuable. She founded The Latinista in 2012 as a way to more easily bring together Latinas 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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