Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

September 17, 2021 - September 15th marked the beginning of a month-long celebration of the histories, cultures, contributions, and achievements of Hispanic Americans to the United States.

Earlier this month, the AFA Executive Board passed a resolution recognizing Hispanic-Latinx Flight Attendants and Americans contributions and influence to the history, culture, and achievements of the U.S. and will design an appropriate pin in recognition of Hispanic-Latinx Heritage Month to be made available in 2022.

Read the resolution

The AFA Human Rights Committee is actively looking at additional diversity and inclusion pins to recognize the full diversity of our Flight Attendants.

Fast Facts

In September of 1968, Congress first authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to establish National Hispanic Heritage Week.

In 1989, it was expanded to a month-long celebration.

The start date, September 15th, is significant because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18.

Influential Hispanic Americans

Cesar Chavez

Born in Arizona to a Mexican American family, Cesar Chavez grew up around the people he later helped through his activism. The defining moment in Chavez’s life came when his family moved to California during the Great Depression to become farm workers, cementing his fight for farmers rights.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, Chavez worked as a lumber handler in San Jose, where he helped set up a chapter of the Community Service Organization, a pivotal civil rights organization for Latinos in California.

Chavez made the CSO his full-time job after he was laid off, meeting fellow activist Dolores Huerta while traveling to chapters around the state of California. The two would go on to found the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers labor union, becoming primary figures for Latin American civil rights.

Though Chavez later received criticism from within for his singular control of the union, including times in which he fired those who opposed him, the activist is still regarded as an important civil rights leader and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom the year after his death in 1993. He was 66.

Dolores Huerta

At 90 years old, Dolores Huerta still stands as a giant in the fight for Hispanic American labor rights.

Born in 1930, the New Mexico native of Mexican descent grew up in a farm worker community in Stockton, California, with her mom and two brothers. She briefly worked as an elementary school teacher after attending college before setting off on the path of civil rights activism.

She joined the Community Service Organization, where she later met fellow activist Chavez. She co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960 and collaborated with Chavez to found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.

Her activism continued in California, where she made a name for herself by supporting and leading various strikes for workers' rights. She later stepped away from the union to focus on women’s rights after she was badly beaten by a San Francisco police officer during a peaceful raid, resulting in a long recovery.

Huerta now runs the Dolores Huerta Foundation and has received several accolades, including an inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 1998 under President Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom under President Obama in 2012.

Sylvia Rivera

In addition to being an influential Hispanic American, drag queen Sylvia Rivera is also an iconic figure in the gay and transgender rights movement.

Rivera, born in New York City in 1951 of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, had a rough upbringing. Her father left the family when she was a baby and her mother later died by suicide when Rivera was just 3 years old. Then still known as Ray, the young child was raised by her Venezuelan grandmother who strongly rejected the beginnings of Rivera’s transgender identity forming.

Rivera was forced to leave home when she was 10, making her way through the rough streets of New York City. She often faced discrimination and violence, compelling her to begin her transgender and gay rights activism.

"We were sick and tired of being put down," Rivera said in The Question of Equality: Lesbian and Gay Politics in America Since Stonewall. "Things just started happening."

Rivera and her friend Marsha P. Johnson, both sex workers, made an indelible mark in the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Both are credited with forming the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), later changed to Transgender, which helped house and support LGBTQ youth and sex workers in Manhattan. They also worked with the Gay Liberation Front, founded after the Stonewall Riot in 1969.

Rivera died in February 2002 due to complications of liver cancer. She has since been heralded alongside Johnson as the mothers of the gay rights movement. Rivera was honored as one of the 50 activists included in the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights.

Elleen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa made her mark by becoming the first Hispanic American woman to go to space with a nine-day mission in 1993.

Ochoa was born in 1958 in Los Angeles, California, years after her paternal grandparents immigrated from Mexico. She first obtained her physics degree from San Diego State University and later her masters and doctorate from Stanford University’s department of electrical engineering by 1985.

Through her impressive research work, NASA selected Ochoa in 1991 and she became an astronaut in July of that year. Two years later, Ochoa made history on board the Space Shuttle Discovery on a mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer. She later completed three more missions.

Ochoa became the first Hispanic American director of the Johnson Space Center in 2013, only the second woman to take the helm. After retiring with 30 years of service, Ochoa continues to advocate for women in STEM.

“I think we need all the best and brightest people working in science and engineering fields, and that is certainly not limited to men or white men or anything like that,” she told NBC News in 2019.

Sonia Sotomayor

A Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic American to serve as a member of the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor was born in 1954 in the New York City borough, where she grew up in a predominantly Catholic and Puerto Rican community. She quickly made education a priority through her mother’s insistence after her dad died when she was 9 years old.

"I was going to college and I was going to become an attorney, and I knew that when I was ten. Ten. That's no jest,” she told the NY Daily News in 1998.

The future judge went on to graduate valedictorian from high school and earned a full scholarship to Princeton University. She graduated in 1976 after establishing herself as a student advocate, working hard to ensure Princeton began hiring Latin American faculty. She went on to Yale Law School and graduated in 1979, earning her acceptance to the New York Bar the next year.

After working for over four years as an assistant district attorney in New York and stepping away to work in private practice, Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Twelve years later, Sotomayor made history when President Barack Obama picked her as his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.

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