Celebrating 10 Hispanic Women Who Broke Barriers

Hispanic Community March 2024 PREMIUM

In this issue, we are proud to pay tribute to Hispanic women who have left an indelible mark by pioneering their respective fields, achieving historic “firsts” that resonate with excellence and resilience.

Ellen Ochoa 

First Hispanic American female astronaut to go into space.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center, was its first Hispanic and second female director. She held previous roles, including Deputy Center Director and Director of Flight Crew Operations. Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 and became an astronaut in 1990. She was the first Hispanic woman in space in 1993 and has flown four missions. With numerous awards, patents, and leadership roles, she's a distinguished figure in space exploration.

Sonia Sotomayor

First Hispanic American female to serve on the Supreme Court.

Sonia Sotomayor, born to Puerto Rican parents in NYC, grew up in the Bronx. Despite financial struggles after her father’s death, she excelled academically, graduating summa cum laude from Princeton and attending Yale Law School. After serving as an assistant district attorney, she entered private practice, focusing on intellectual property. Appointed by Pres. George H.W. Bush as a federal judge, she gained attention for her rulings, later becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Lydia Mendoza

First Hispanic American female music star.

Lydia Mendoza was born in 1016. She developed her passion for music at an early age, mastering guitar, mandolin, and violin. Entertaining Mexican workers with her family band, they moved to San Antonio where she personalized the 12-string guitar, creating a unique sound. Lydia’s solo career began in 1934 with her hit “Mal Hombre.” She was known as “La Alondra de la Frontera” and “La Cancionera de los Pobres.” She performed for President Jimmy Carter in 1975 and earned numerous honors, including induction into the Tejano and Conjunto Music Halls of Fame.

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate

First Hispanic American female prima ballerina.

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, the first Mexican-American prima ballerina, discovered her passion for ballet at eight after watching Swan Lake. She pursued her dream, training at the School of American Ballet and joining the San Francisco Ballet. Rising through the ranks, she became a principal dancer, performing in numerous iconic ballets. Retiring in 1999, she now directs The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy, imparting her expertise to aspiring dancers.

Juliet V. García

First Hispanic American female college president.

Dr. Juliet V. García, former president of UT Brownsville and now a UTRGV communications professor, was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the nation. Recognized by President Joe Biden for her transformative leadership in education, García became the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president in the U.S. She’s celebrated for her dedication to student success and pioneering partnerships. Her accolades include being named one of TIME's Top 10 college presidents and a Fortune Top 50 world leader.

Susana Martinez

First Hispanic American Female governor.

Susana Martinez, the inaugural woman governor of New Mexico and the first Hispanic woman to hold such a position in the United States, took office in 2011 and was re-elected in 2014. Before her governorship, she served as a prosecutor for 25 years, prosecuting tough cases such as child abuse and homicide. Martinez won the election for district attorney of the Third Judicial District in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, where she was twice named Prosecutor of the Year. Married to Chuck Franco, she cares for her sister, Lettie, who has cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities.

Laurie Hernandez

First Hispanic American female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, born in New Jersey in 2000, is an American gymnast renowned for her achievements in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was part of the "Final Five" team alongside Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and Madison Kocian, securing the gold medal in women's artistic gymnastics. Of Puerto Rican descent, Hernandez also secured an individual silver medal in the balance beam event. She was the first U.S. Latina gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. After her Olympic success, Hernandez ventured into television, winning Dancing with the Stars in 2016. She resumed training in 2019, aiming for further accomplishments despite setbacks like a knee injury in 2021.

Rita Moreno

First Hispanic American female actor to win an Oscar.

Rita Moreno, born in Puerto Rico in 1931, is an actress, dancer, and singer renowned for achieving the prestigious EGOT status by winning an Emmy (1977, 1978), Grammy (1972), Oscar (1962), and Tony (1975). She became the first Latina to receive an Oscar. After her parents’ divorce, Moreno moved to New York City in 1935, eventually adopting her stepfather’s surname. Her career saw successes in Broadway, film, and television, earning her numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honor.

Myrtle Gonzalez

First Hispanic American female Hollywood movie star.

Myrtle Gonzalez, born in Los Angeles in 1891 to a Mexican father and an Irish mother, became Hollywood’s pioneering Hispanic female movie star. Her talent led her to a prolific career in silent films. Gonzalez garnered acclaim for portraying resilient women who overcame challenges through their inner strength and unwavering resolve, proudly embracing her Hispanic heritage. She left an indelible mark despite her untimely death at 27 during the Spanish flu pandemic. Her legacy endures through her groundbreaking contributions to the film industry.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

First Hispanic American female elected to the U.S. Congress.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a Cuban American who became a notable figure in South Florida and a vocal critic of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. Her 1989 U.S. House of Representatives election marked her as the first Hispanic Cuban American woman in Congress. Born in Havana in 1952, she earned degrees from Miami-Dade Community College, Florida International University, and the University of Miami. Before her congressional career, she served in the Florida legislature, advocating for various issues, including human rights, veterans’ affairs, and environmental protection. Ros-Lehtinen prioritized initiatives such as Medicare reform, anti-bullying laws, and the advancement of civil rights. She also played a pivotal role in cofounding the LGBT Equality Caucus.



-NASA Astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa,space%20shuttle%20Discovery%20in%201993.

-Sonia Sotomayor

-Lydia Mendoza

-Ballet Trailblazer – Evelyn Cisneros-Legate

-White House: Dr. Juliet V. García presented with The Presidential Medal of Freedom

-Gov. Susana Martinez

-Laurie Hernandez

-Rita Moreno

-Who was Myrtle Gonzalez?

-Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Share with:

Product information

Post a Job

Post a job in higher education?

Place your job ad in our classified page on the HO print & digital Edition