Five historical Hispanic figures you should know about

By Kira Vander Molen, Reporter

Photo courtesy of

Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15th – October 15th. It’s the perfect time to learn more about historical (and current!) Hispanic figures. Here’s five everyone should know about, noteworthy for both their achievements and character.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)

Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz was a Mexican-born nun famous for her plays, poetry, and essays. Often considered one of the most important proto-feminists, Sor Juana argued passionately for women’s education in her essay Respuesta a sor Filotea de la Cruz (Reply to Sister Filotea of the Cross). This passion came from her own love of learning, as Sor Juana herself chose to become a nun primarily to continue studying. Her works ranged from serious and scholarly to satiric and comedic. In present-day Mexico, Sor Juana’s name is featured on the wall of honor in the Mexican Congress, and her likeness can be found on some old Mexican currency.

Without Sor Juana, not only would a huge body of work be lost, but modern feminism would lose a serious founding document. De la Cruz’s strong desire for wisdom and knowledge is truly admirable both on a personal and objective level.

Marcario García (1920-1972)

Marcario García was a World War II veteran and the first Mexican immigrant to ever receive the Medal of Honor. Choosing to act alone rather than face death, García destroyed two enemy emplacements and took four prisoners, all to help his company escape machine gun fire. Though he was wounded, García continued to fight until victory was won. 

Though awarded the Medal of Honor, García continued to face often violent discrimination in the United States. Despite this, García continued working for the U.S. military and with civil rights activists until his death in 1972. His bravery in spite of fierce enemies both at home and abroad is something worth celebrating.

Raul Juliá (1940-1994)

Raul Juliá was a Puerto Rican actor, known perhaps most famously for his portrayal of Gomez in The Addams Family. Trained in Shakespearean acting, Juliá took every role he had seriously — even if it was part of a B-movie, such as the role of M. Bison in the poorly-reviewed 1994 video-game adaption Street Fighter (Juliá took on the role specifically because his children, fans of the franchise, asked him to). When he wasn’t on the big screen, Juliá participated in humanitarian work, donating to food banks, sponsoring high school actors and participating in independent films for little to no salary. Juliá’s generosity and hard work prove him to be a role model for any aspiring actor.

Rita Moreno (1931-present)

Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican actress, the first Hispanic actress to ever win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Most famously known for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story (1961), Moreno’s career spans decades. Moreno is one of few who has attained the “Triple Crown of Acting” (individual competitive Academy, Emmy, and Tony awards for acting), with a Grammy to boot. However, her career beginnings weren’t so stellar: Moreno disliked the stereotypical roles she was cast in, finding them often humiliating. Eventually, however, she gained enough traction to obtain the roles she really wanted.

Moreno’s determination eventually paid off, and she continues acting to this day. Fans of One Day at a Time (2017) may have seen her in action. 

Ellen Ochoa (1958-present)

Dr. Ellen Ochoa is the first Hispanic woman ever to go to space as well as the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center. With nearly 1,000 hours spent in orbit, Ochoa is a veteran astronaut awarded with the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest award. Ochoa continues work in various fields of science by serving on the committee for evaluations of National Medal of Technology and Innovation nominees. 

Ochoa immediately gets a spot on this list for being an astronaut — probably one of the most dangerous jobs out there — but her dedication to science alone is certainly commendable.

It’s impossible to exist every famous or notable Hispanic figure, but this Hispanic Heritage Month, hopefully, little by little, their legacies will come into light. By learning from the past, anyone can give themselves a better future.

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