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A Reflection of Political Activism: Latinx History Month

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

By Giulia Becker Miller

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Latinx History Month has offered an opportunity for recognition, awareness, celebration, and appreciation of the Latinx men, women, and persons who have contributed to the global community, especially here in the United States. The general sentiment in the United States contends the invisibility of the Latinx voice and face. There are a number of cultural beliefs, moral habits, and even de facto legislation pieces that ensure the continuation of a quieted, repressed Latinx body. Despite this reality, there has historically blossomed a movement of people outwardly, confidently, and successfully challenging these narratives of existence and inferiority—yes, they are Latinx.

Mercedes Sosa (1935—2009) is recognized within the Latinx community as “the voice for the voiceless ones.” She offered her talent and reach as a singer to shed light on major atrocities being faced in Argentina during the “Dirty War.” Her work was recognized across Latin America and in the United States as moving, powerful, and beautiful. Her activism and work eventually posed such a threat to the Argentine political regime that she was forced to live in exile away from her country after being imprisoned at her own concert. Sosa was unapologetic for her voice and her roots. Without her contribution to society, the world would sound more hopeless and lack beauty through political dissent.

(Artistic piece of Mercedes Sosa from Sounds and Colors)

Loyola Guzman (1942—present-day) is a Bolivian human rights activist working dedicatedly to spotlight enforced disappearances of Latinx lives in the world. Guzman heads Latin American Associations of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared Federation (FEDEFAM) and works hard to force recognition of government entities’ complacency and often encouragement of the disappearing lives of Latinx people. Her work is a threat to the current state of normalized disregard for the lives of Latinx individuals. This activism has inspired others to take a stand against injustices being faced by the Latinx community in all countries—in the United States, Solidarity Across/Without Borders Delegation has spoken out in tandem with FEDEFAM against disappearances of children and the separation of particularly Latinx immigrant families in ICE custody.

(Photo of Loyola Guzman from Página Siete)

Chico Mendes (1944—1988) was a pioneer in Brazilian environmental activism. He began the “world's first tropical forest conservation initiative advanced by forest peoples themselves.” Mendes not only fought to keep the rainforests of Brazil alive but did so while uplifting the voices of those most threatened by the failure of Brazil to conserve this land. He offers a spectacular example of political activism inspired by a cause, care, and not-self. His death, brought by “cattle ranchers angered by his efforts,” enlightened the world to the environmental catastrophes that can, and will, ensue without preservation and protection of the Brazilian rainforests.

(Photo of Chico Mendez from Brasil 247)

Angela Valenzuela (1994—present-day) is a Chilean activist fighting against a corrupt sitting government; she is also the coordinator of Fridays for Future in Santiago, Chile. Valenzuela is unapologetically speaking up for the masses in Chile who are done with “30 years of demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ments that failed to pro­tect us and lis­ten to our demands.” Valenzuela, along with young activists across the nation, is speaking up, not only for the unheard Latinx voices but also for the decaying earth that births these voices. Her strength, resilience, and forwardness are proving to be a force not to reckon with and a one to follow for future reflection.

(Photo of Angela Valenzuela from In These Times)

Francia Márquez (1982—present day) has brought to light the Afro-Latinx experience as a victim of harmful governmental policies in Colombia working towards the degradation and health-crisis of this community. Her motive is to fight for clean and free water. She has regularly spoken against the structural racism that pervades the lives of Colombians—particularly Afro-Columbians—through environmental damage on a regular basis. Her dissent and strong will to survive this existence has not kept others from threatening her survival. She has been a target for grenades and automatic weapons, thus causing her to fear for her life in the fight for clean water. Despite these fears, Márquez continues to act for environmental rights.

(Photo of Francia Marquez from La Nueva Maestría Columbiana)

Jehry Rivera (1945—2020), a Costa Rican indigenous activist and leader, was speaking and protesting against the Costa Rican government’s actions to disenfranchise and manipulate the lands of indigenous communities. In Costa Rica, the indigenous community is a super minority, compromising only 2% of the total population. While they may not have strength in numbers, this community has strength in survival. Political and institutional entities have made the ongoing effort to continuously diminish their population, and yet, their existence and fight persevere. Rivera, in the initiative to reclaim stolen land, was assassinated in an area in which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had issued protective measures for the indigenous population as a result of the constant threats they had been receiving from landowners who were seeking to appropriate their territory. His legacy and the movement for indigenous justice in South America lives on, despite the unsuccessful attempt to snuff out a strong leader’s voice.

(Photo of Jehry Rivera from La Ruta del Clima)

Ramón Saúl Sánchez (1954—present) is a Cuban activist who was raised and lives in the United States. As a child-refugee to the United States who fled from a corrupt Cuban government, Sánchez grew up in a highly political and controversial body. Some may argue that Sánchez had no choice but to get involved in politics because of his mere existence and status as a Latinx refugee in the United States. Sánchez greatly contributed to the progression of human rights, particularly in Cuba, while simultaneously building a livelihood in the United States and speaking out for Cuban refugees. Sánchez’ was one of Miami’s “most zealous anti-Castro activists and a motor-mouthed advocate for Cubans seeking refuge.” Despite Sánchez’ history of human rights advocacy, his status as a resident of the United States is at stake, as is the case with many other Latinx immigrants and refugees. While deportation proves a threat quite literally at his back door, Sánchez refuses to stay silent. His story is heard and repeated in an attempt to exemplify the injustice being faced by many Latinx bodies, nationally.

(Photo from Getty Images)

Aída Cartagena Portalatín (1918—1994) is a renowned poet from the Dominican Republic. Her writings challenge the common misconception that a woman’s responsibility in life is to be present, care, and live for a man. Her work, written at a time when feminist theory in Latin America was taboo, was an act of rebellion. The audacity that this woman had to dissent the culture of heteronormativity and domesticity was powerful and still reads to inspire. The last three lines of her poem “Una Mujer está Sola” reads, “Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga / en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa, / de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.” Written by Cartagena Portalatín, this piece reminds the reader of the power of a woman’s blood, body, and mind and the greatness that follows.

(Photo of Aída Cartagena Portalatín [far right] from Letra Muerta)

Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano (1982—present) is an Ecuadorian activist fighting for trans lives through a multi-faceted approach. She began her activist career at 18 years old and continues to this day to overcome degrading barriers for trans lives in Latin America. Rodríguez Zambrano was the first transgender individual to be elected to the National Assembly of Ecuador in 2017. She has also written a children’s book based on her own lived experience as a transgender woman. Her work is still shattering the norm to this day, and she will go down in history as a trailblazer and an icon.

(Photo of Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano from Madrid Summit)

Ramiro Choc (dates unknown) is a leader of many activist movements in Guatemala. Choc has pushed for the rights of the indigenous population, the impoverished communities, environmental preservation, and far more. His leadership was recognized across activist and political circles in Guatemala. This legitimacy was potent enough to appoint him as a mediator of many different civil conflicts, particularly pertaining to land. This peace-maker was still arrested and imprisoned for his actions in the fight for human rights in 2008 and was not released until 2013. There is little online that highlights Choc’s whereabouts as of today, as much of the web simply recounts his arrest, imprisonment, and the recognition of the human rights crisis in Guatemala that followed by other countries and their citizens. Despite this, the idea is not difficult to perceive that after releasing from prison, Choc has returned to the activist and mediating scene to ensure peace and human rights progress in not only Guatemala but in the world.

(Photo of Ramiro Choc from Zapateando 2)

Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres (1990—present) is an indigenous female activist who has relentlessly spoken against the industrialization of Honduras and the Government as an oppressive entity. Despite the severe consequences that may follow from political activism in Honduras, (imprisonment, death, etc.) Zúñiga Cáceres continues to fight for the protection of Indigenous lives in Honduras and beyond. Few know the pain and true consequence of civil disobedience the way that Zúñiga Cáceres does. Her mother, Bertha Cáceres, was assassinated in 2016 for speaking up against injustice in Honduras. Today, Zúñiga Cáceres keeps her mother’s legacy alive by working as the general coordinator for the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Zúñiga Cáceres is an exemplar of the impact through generations that political activists can and do have.

(Photo of Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres from International Federation for Human Rights)

Dolores Huerta (1930—present) is an underrepresented Mexican activist, often falling into the shadow of Cesar Chavez. Huerta’s concern in activism lies within the plight of farmers and their degrading workplace conditions. She was a major leader and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association. Her legacy includes the establishment of the phrase “¡Sí Se Puede!” as a symbol of political dissent against injustice in the fields of farms. Her work goes beyond being Cesar Chavez’s “right hand;” she has been an icon of intersectional feminism, humanitarianism, activism, and far more on levels that few have reached in the world. Her activism persists with the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Huerta perseveres as a force not to be reckoned with.

(Photo of Dolores Huerta from Moral Heroes)

Magaly Castillo (unknown birthdate—present) is a Nicaraguan intersectional feminist who utilizes the arts in tandem with political disruption to make numerous statements about the violence, discrimination, and injustice that Nicaraguan women face. Theatre acts as a major tool in her fight against sexual violence, harassment, and the fight for reproductive rights in Nicaragua. She is currently living in exile out of fear for her life and livelihood—concern over how far the military and government will go to silence her is a looming threat. Castillo’s words and performances speak power into the diminished lives of women, which is precisely the reason why her work threatens the government's normalized state of complacency and often involvement when it comes to the major issue of violence against women.

(Photo of Magaly Castillo from Catalan News)

Carlos Francisco Chang Marín (1922—2012) was an anti-colonialist and communist activist of Panama. The activism that Chang Marín predominantly produced were antagonistic writings that spotlit the suppression faced by the working class in Panama at the expense of colonization and industrialization. Chang Marín spoke out against the United States government implementation of the Panama Canal— outing the nation for the reality of that endeavor: colonization and imperialism continued. His work touched the lives and inspired the political involvement of working-class citizens. Chang Marín’s writings explore everything from the depths of identity politics to the inevitable proletariat revolution.

(Photo of Carlos Francisco Chang Marín from Cuentista Panameño Carlos francisco Chang)

Cinthya Vasquez is an Afro-Peruvian LGBT+ feminist and activist on the journey towards implementing structural and systematic change. Her work involves the accumulation of a master's degree in Latin and Caribbean studies at NYU. With this certification, Vasquez’s future involves the dismantling of systems that keep communities of color and LGBT+ persons in positions of poverty. Presently, she is the coordinator of commercial projects related to technology and the co-organizer of “Cabritas Resistiendo en Cuarentena.” Her work as an activist is one to follow and support. True greatness and change are likely to blossom from her path of dedication.

(Photo of Cynthia Vasquez from her Instagram page)

Ana Roque de Duprey (1853—1933) was a suffragette and education advocate who has been detrimentally left out of world history. Roque de Duprey truly deserves a standing ovation for the progress that she has personally instilled toward the progression of women’s rights in Puerto Rico. Roque de Duprey became an educator at the age of 13, opening up a school in her home to teach. She became the first woman to be accepted into many major circles of political life, demanding a seat at the table, unlike many other historical figures. Roque de Duprey began the first women’s only magazine in Puerto Rico, founded a high school for girls and the college of Mayaguez, and helped found the Puerto Rican Feminist League in 1917. Roque de Duprey is the epitome of an under-appreciated historical figure. Her personal contributions to politics and activism were one of extravagant changes and progress that propelled Puerto Rico into a more inclusive and progressive government.

(Photo of Ana Roque de Duprey from History Hustle)

Rosa Anaya (1976—present) has proven to be a compassionate and positive light in the lives of the most disenfranchised. Anaya is a Salvadorian youth advocate working with prisoners to help them transition into life outside of the system. She recognizes gang involvement and violence as not a personal failure of the individual, but rather a structural failure of the system. Anaya has witnessed war disenfranchise the youth to the point of hopelessness and violence. Her goal as an activist is to work in tandem with these people to encourage a path away from a helpless mindset that leads to painful ends. Her work primarily focuses on the individual lives of prisoners facing difficulties and yet, her impact has been greater.

(Photo of Rosa Anaya from WBEZ)

Cristina Rodríguez Cabral (1959—present) is a Uruguayan “outspoken black woman warrior.” Her activism has taken her across the Americas, experiencing life in communities from Uruguay to Brazil to the United States. Her travels have only further strengthened her radical ideals as an activist and as a writer. Her pieces largely explore identity politics and the internal dilemmas of culture clash within her own life. This glass- shattering activist is the first Afro-Uruguayan to achieve a Doctoral degree. Rodríguez Cabral’s work has influenced and still does inspire political activism and self-enlightenment in numerous lives.

(Photo of Cristina Rodríguez Cabral from Campus Echo Online)

Sylvia Rivera (1951—2002) was a Venezuelan activist fighting for LGBT+ liberation. Her life was a complex web of intersectionality that intimidated some of the most self-professed gay progressives of her time. Rivera was “poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, a former sex worker, and someone who also experienced drug addiction, incarceration, and homelessness.” The experiences she faced and lived only strengthened her dedication to justice, which led her to establish the Gay Liberation Front and co-establish STAR with Marsha P. Johnson (recently re-branded as STARR by another Latinx transgender icon, Mariah Lopez, Sylvia Rivera’s adopted daughter). The limitations that the LGBT+ community may still face today if not for Rivera’s involvement in Stonewall and the fight for gay liberation is incalculable. However, there is certainty in the fact that Rivera was a profound and strong woman to respect, cherish, and love.

(Photo of Sylvia Rivera from AP News)

This has been a complete list of outstanding political and personal Latinx activists based on country of origin who have worked, and are still working, to shape the world to a more humane setting. Without the voices of Latinx individuals who fight for progressive change, the earth would reflect a far different image than it does today. Because of Latinx influence, we have more open minds, hearts, and lives. Despite efforts across the globe to silence the Latinx narrative, we continue to overcome degradation and incite positive change. Latinx History month would be under-celebrated without the mention of one or more of these names as a cause for celebration.

Written by writer Giulia Becker Miller

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