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 Hispanic Heritage Month


Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.


Famous Hispanic Artists:

Frida Kahlo

  Born: 6 July 1907

Died: 13 July 1954

Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico

Best known as: Mexico's most famous woman artist

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico's most famous artists and also something of a feminist icon, celebrated for her passionate indomitability in the face of life's trials. She's best known for her daring self-portraits depicting the suffering she experienced in her personal life. As a child Kahlo had polio; at the age of 18 she broke her right leg and pelvis in a horrific bus accident, leading to a lifetime of chronic pain. Partially immobile after the accident, Kahlo began painting in the late 1920s. She married famed muralist Diego Rivera in 1929 and together they travelled to the United States, staying in Detroit and New York City in the early 1930s. In the late 1930s Kahlo had exhibitions of her paintings in New York City and Paris and associated with some of the most famous painters in the world. Kahlo and Rivera were both known for their extramarital affairs (Kahlo supposedly was a lover of Leon Trotsky) and in 1940 they divorced for a short time before remarrying. During the '40s Kahlo gained international recognition for her colorful and sometimes gruesome paintings (as well as for her bold public persona), but she continued to have health problems. She died in 1954 just after her 47th birthday.

Paintings by Frida Kahlo:


Diego Rivera

Rivera, Diego, 1886–1957, Mexican mural painter, studied as a youth with Posada and other Mexican painters; husband of Frida Kahlo. The native sculpture of Mexico deeply impressed him. In Europe (1907–9, 1912–21) he worked in several countries and was influenced by the paintings of El Greco and Goya. He had close association with Cézanne and Picasso and with communistic Russians in exile. He became convinced that a new form of art should respond to “the new order of things … and that the logical place for this art … belonging to the populace, was on the walls of public buildings.” Returning in 1921 to Mexico, he painted, with the assistance of younger artists, large murals dealing with the life, history, and social problems of Mexico, in the Preparatory School and the Ministry of Education in Mexico City and the Agricultural School of Chapingo. To the peasants and workers he became a sort of prophet. He visited Moscow in 1927–28 and upon his return painted in the National Palace and in the Palace of Cortés at Cuernavaca. In the United States he painted frescoes in the luncheon club of the Stock Exchange and in the Fine Arts Building, both in San Francisco, and murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, giving his interpretation of industrial America as exemplified in Detroit. A mural for Rockefeller Center, New York City, was destroyed by order of his sponsors because of the inclusion of a portrait of Lenin. The mural was reproduced in Mexico City at the Palace of Fine Arts. Rivera in 1936 interceded with President Cárdenas to permit Trotsky to come to Mexico. In 1956 the artist went to Moscow for an operation. Several months before his death he announced his affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church.

Murals by Diego Rivera:


Pablo Picasso

Born: 25 October 1881

Died: 8 April 1973

Birthplace: Málaga, Spain

Best known as: The 20th century's most famous artist

Pablo Ruiz Picasso showed artistic ability at an early age, and when he began to study art seriously in Barcelona and Madrid, he was already a skilled painter. In the early 1900s he visited and eventually settled in Paris, where he was part of a vibrant artistic community that included Gertrude Stein. Although greatly influenced by other artists in Europe and beyond, Picasso was inventive and prolific, and early in his career earned a worldwide reputation as an innovator. Along with Henri Matisse, he is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His enormous body of work spans so many years that art experts generally separate his career into distinct phases, such as the Blue Period, the Rose Period and his most famous contribution to modern art, Cubism. Picasso, unlike so many before him, was an international celebrity as well as an important contributor to the world of art.

Paintings by Pablo Picasso:

Salvador Dali

Dalí, Salvador, 1904–1989, Spanish painter. At first influenced by futurism, in 1924 Dalí came under the influence of the Italian painter de Chirico and by 1929 he had become a leader of surrealism. His precisely realistic style enhances the obsessively nightmarish effect of many of his paintings. Among his best-known works is Persistence of Memory (1931; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City) with its strangely melting clocks. In 1940 Dalí escaped from Nazi-occupied France and emigrated to the United States. He wrote The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942) and also made surrealist ventures in films (e.g., Luis Buñuel's Un Chien andalou, 1928), advertising, and the ballet. A self-proclaimed genius, Dalí was certainly a multitalented artist–a superb draftsman whose wildly inventive imagination has left a strong impression on contemporary culture. However, his publicity-seeking antics, commercialism, and encouragement of art-world trickery that made fake Dalí prints an industry caused some to brand him a charlatan. The Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres, Spain, are devoted to his works.

Paintings by Salvador Dali:



Famous Hispanic Americans:

  Christina Aguilera
Born: 12/18/1980
Birthplace: Staten Island, N.Y.

Aguilera knew from a young age that she wanted to be a singer. She reportedly memorized all the lyrics to the songs from The Sound of Music by age 5. She appeared on Star Search when she was 9. (She didn't win.) Like Britney Spears and 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, Aguilera got her big break on The New Mickey Mouse Club. Her two-year stint as a Mouseketeer, from age 12 to 14, caught the attention of record executives who were impressed with her vocal range. By age 15 she had a deal with RCA. During negotiations, Aguilera auditioned to sing on the Mulan soundtrack for Disney. She landed the job singing “Reflection,” the lead single on the 1998 soundtrack. She released her self-titled debut album in 1999, and the single “Genie in a Bottle” climbed to No. 1 on the pop charts. She won Best New Artist honors at the 1999 Grammy Awards (held in Feb. 2000).



David Barkley
Born: 3/31/1899
Birthplace: Laredo, Texas

Barkley, an enlisted private in the U.S. Army, was the first Hispanic American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. During World War I he voluntarily swam the icy Meuse River in France to gather information behind German lines. He drowned on the way back from the Meuse mission and was honored posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor. His Hispanic heritage was not known until 1989.

Died: 11/9/1918



Luis Walter Alvarez
Born: 1911
Birthplace: San Francisco, California

Radio distance and direction indicator—Alvarez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968. He helped design a ground-controlled radar system for aircraft landings and with his son developed the meteorite theory of dinosaur extinction. (1978)
Died: 1988


Baez, Joan, 1941–, American folk singer and political activist, b. New York City. Baez began singing traditional folk ballads, blues, and spirituals in Cambridge, Mass., coffeehouses in a clear soprano voice with a three-octave range. She made folk music, which had been largely ignored, popular. Baez's records were the first folk albums to become best-sellers. Her later albums include several of her own compositions, e.g., “Song for David” and “Blessed Are.” Among the first performers to urge social protest, she sang and marched for civil and student rights and peace. Since the late 1960s she has devoted time to her school for nonviolence in California and has performed at concerts supporting a variety of humanitarian causes.


Chavez, Cesar Estrada, 1927–93, American agrarian labor leader, b. near Yuma, Ariz. A migrant worker, he became involved (1952) in the self-help Community Service Organization (CSO) in California, working among Mexicans and Mexican Americans; from 1958 to 1962 he was its general director. In 1962, he left the CSO to organize wine grape pickers in California and formed the National Farm Workers Association. Using strikes, fasts, picketing, and marches, he was able to obtain contracts from a number of major growers. In 1966 his organization merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO. Chavez also launched (1968) a boycott against the table grape growers, mobilizing consumer support throughout the United States. In 1972 the United Farm Workers (UFW), with Chavez as president, became a member union of the AFL-CIO. Chavez expanded its efforts to include all California vegetable pickers and launched a lettuce boycott, as well as extending his organizational efforts to Florida citrus workers. His successes in California were sharply diminished, however, as the result of a jurisdictional dispute with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters over the organization of field workers. In 1973 the Teamsters cut heavily into UFW membership by signing contracts with former UFW grape growers, but Chavez renewed the grape workers' strike. In 1977, the two unions signed a pact defining the types of workers each could organize. Membership in the UFW later fell, in part due to disputes between Chavez and his followers, some of whom accused him of nepotism.


  Henry Cisneros
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Clinton Administration
Born: 6/11/1947
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas

Henry Cisneros served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997, under President Clinton. After working as a professor of environmental studies and a city councilor in his native San Antonio, in 1981 Cisneros was elected mayor, becoming the first Hispanic to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city. During his four terms Cisneros was a popular leader who helped revitalize downtown San Antonio. Cisneros pleaded guilty in 1999 to a misdemeanor count of lying to the FBI. In his 1993 background check for his cabinet position, he lied about payments he made to a former mistress. President Clinton pardoned him in January 2001.


  Franklin Chang-Dìaz
Astronaut, Scientist
Born: April 5, 1950
Birthplace: San Jose, Costa Rica

Chang-Dìaz moved to the United States when he was in high school, and got a doctorate in applied plasma physics from MIT in 1977. He eventually achieved his dream of becoming an astronaut, entering space for the first time aboard Columbia in January 1986. He was the first Costa Rican astronaut, and, as of 2004, he was one of only two astronauts to have served on seven space missions, the other being Jerry Ross. Chang-Dìaz is also the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he has been developing a plasma rocket.


  Cameron Diaz
Actress, Model
Born: 8/30/1972
Birthplace: San Diego, California

Striking blonde actress who has parlayed a successful modeling career into big-screen success. After making the blockbuster film The Mask (1994) opposite Jim Carrey, Diaz turned down more commercial work in favor of independent films such as Head Above Water (1996) and She's the One (1996). She returned to major studio work as Julia Roberts's rival in My Best Friend's Wedding (1997). She starred in 1998's surprise hit, There's Something about Mary. Diaz joined Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels (2000) and its sequel Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). She did the voice of Fiona in the animated Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004) and is slated to continue the role in Shrek 3 (2007). She played Leonardo DiCaprio's romantic interest in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002).


  Gloria Estefan
(Gloria Fajardo)
Born: 9/1/1957
Birthplace: Havana, Cuba

Cuban-American singer, founder of the Miami Sound Machine, and perhaps the most successful performer to cross over from Latin music to American pop. The group earned Grammy Awards and enormous success for their albums Mi Tierra (1993) and Abriendo Puertas (1995), and has recorded a wide variety of Latin-influenced and more mainstream American pop. Known as the Queen of Latin Pop, Estefan has overcome a great deal of adversity in her life, most notably a bus accident that left her with a broken back from which she has since recovered. She made her acting debut in the 1999 Meryl Streep film, Music of the Heart. In 2004, she released Unwrapped and announced her final tour. She also published her first children's book about her dog Noelle.

  Ernesto Galarza
Labor organizer, Historian, Professor, Activist
Born: 1905
Birthplace: Nayarit, Mexico, near Tepic

When Ernesto Galarza was eight, he and his parents migrated to Sacramento, California, where he worked as a farm laborer. Excelling at school, he became one of the first Mexican-Americans from a poor background to complete college, after which he received a M.A. from Stanford in 1929, and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1944. Galarza returned to California, where—at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism—he organized unions for farm laborers, joining the effort to create the first multiracial farm worker union. While this effort failed, it created the foundation for the United Farm Workers Union of the 1960s. He wrote several books, most notably the 1964 Merchants of Labor, on the exploitation of Mexican contract workers, and the 1971 Barrio Boy, about his own childhood. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976.

Died: 1984


  Salma Hayek
Born: 9/2/1966
Birthplace: Coatzacoalcos, Mexico

Actress who left a blooming career in her native Mexico to conquer Hollywood, and has become perhaps the best-known Mexican-American performer since Dolores Del Rio. Hayek has had romantic roles opposite several leading men, including Antonio Banderas in Desperado (1995) and George Clooney in the otherwise disappointing From Dusk 'Til Dawn (1996). Hayek got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of artist Frida Kahlo in Frida (2000). In 2006's Lonely Hearts, she plays real-life murderer Martha Beck, the female half of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” duo.


  Scott Gomez
Born: Dec. 23, 1979
Hockey C
Alaska native and only Hispanic NHL 1st-round draft pick (27th selection in 1998); scored 70 points in 2000 to win the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year; won Stanley Cup with New Jersey Devils in 2000.
  Oscar De La Hoya
Born: Feb. 4, 1973

1992 Olympic gold medallist (lightweight); has held world titles in 4 weight classes (lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and jr. middleweight); was unbeaten until losing WBC Welterweight belt to Felix Trinidad in a majority decision in 1999; later moved to jr. middleweight and won WBA and WBC belts; TKO’d in 9th round by Bernard Hopkins in their undisputed middleweight title fight in September 2004.

  Jennifer Lopez
Actress, Singer
Born: 7/24/1969
Birthplace: Bronx, New York

Film and television actress best known for her portrayal of Selena, the murdered Tejano singer, in the movie Selena (1997), for which she earned a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination. Lopez started off dancing in stage musicals, and first appeared on the Hollywood scene as one of the “fly girl” dancers on In Living Color (1990). After several failed television series, she appeared in the critically acclaimed film Mi Familia (1995), and has since appeared in various other movies on the big screen. Television credits include South Central, Second Chances (1993) and Malibu Road; film credits include Jack (1996), Money Train (1997), Anaconda (1997), The Cell (2000), The Wedding Planner (2001) and Angel Eyes (2001). 2003 was not a good year, first, with the end of her marriage with Cris Judd, then the universal panning of the movie Gigli with then-fiancee Ben Affleck. She married singer Marc Anthony in June 2004.

  Anthony Munoz
Born: Aug. 19, 1958
Football OT

Drafted 3rd overall in 1980 out of USC; 11-time All Pro with Cincinnati; member of NFL 75th Anniv. All-Time Team; elected to Hall of Fame in 1998.

  Ochoa, Severo, 1905–93, American biochemist and educator, b. Spain, M.D. Univ. of Madrid, 1929. After teaching at the universities of Madrid, Heidelberg, and Oxford, he came to the United States in 1940. In 1954 he was appointed chairman of the department of biochemistry at New York Univ. He became an American citizen in 1956. With Arthur Kornberg he received the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the synthesis of ribonucleic acid (RNA), an organic compound that carries hereditary qualities in all reproduction.
  Geraldo Rivera
Talk-show host, Journalist
Born: 7/4/1943
Birthplace: New York City

In 1997 Rivera cut a $30 million six-year contract with NBC as a news journalist, capping a career in journalism that has mixed serious investigative reporting with tawdry talk-show fare and the downright bizarre. After reporting for New York's WABC-TV (1970–75), Rivera became a host and correspondent for Good Night America and then Good Morning America (1973–76). During 1978–85 he worked for 20/20; his report on Elvis Presley's drug use is the highest-rated in 20/20's history. His syndicated special on breaking into Al Capone's vault became TV's highest-rated special ever. In 1987 he began hosting the Geraldo show (which continued as The Geraldo Rivera Show untill 2001) punctuated in 1988 with a brawl on the set that landed Rivera with a broken nose. In 1994 he joined CNBC on Rivera Live, a more serious venue in which he delivered well-received coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial. In 2001, Rivera moved to the Fox New Channel as a war correspondent. Both admired and lampooned, Rivera knows how to make the ratings roar.


  Bill Richardson
Politician, Diplomat
Born: 1947
Birthplace: Pasadena, Calif.

Richardson has spent nearly his entire career as a public servant. A Democrat from New Mexico, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1983 and served until January 1997. As a congressman he was chief deputy Democratic whip and sat on the Commerce, Intelligence, and the Resource committees. In February 1997 he became the U.S. ambassador to the UN, the first Hispanic to hold the position. Known as a skilled troubleshooter, Richardson traveled to such hot spots as North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, and Sudan, where he successfully negotiated the release of American hostages. Richardson also mediated discussions between Zaire's former president Mobutu and rebel leader Laurent Kabila, which resulted in the fairly peaceful transfer of power in the country that is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. In 1998, President Clinton appointed him secretary of energy. In that position, in which he served until 2001, he set aside more than 20,000 acres for wildlife preservation, helped to stem rising oil prices, and ushered in a program to remove from the Colorado River 10 tons of radioactive material.In 2002 Richardson successfully ran for the governorship of New Mexico. In 2007, he announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.


(Quintanilla Perez)
Tejano Singer
Born: 4/16/1971
Birthplace: Lake Jackson, Texas

Grammy Award-winning tejano singer who was gunned down in 1995 by deranged fan Yolanda Saldivar. Her recordings include Live (1993) and Dreaming of You (1995). Jennifer Lopez played her in the 1997 film Selena.

Died: 3/31/1995

  Sammy Sosa
Born: Nov. 12, 1968
Baseball OF

Slugging Chicago Cub who surpassed Roger Maris’ season home run record (61), just after Mark McGwire did in 1998 and finished the year with 66; followed that up with seasons of 63, 50 and 64 HRs; 1998 NL MVP; 7-time All-Star (1995,98-2002,2004).

Gary Soto
Born: April 12, 1952
Birthplace: Fresno, California

Although his prolific career has included essays, plays, and ten books of poetry for adults, Gary Soto is best known as an acclaimed writer of fiction and narrative poems for children. His sympathetic and often humorous juvenile books include Baseball in April and Other Stories (1990) and the novel Taking Sides (1991). Soto, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, travels widely to schools in California and the Southwest to promote reading and meet his young readers.