September 15th is Independence Day in five Latin American countries — and it’s also the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, when Hispanic culture in America is honored. During this special month, Americans are encouraged to reflect on the wonderful contributions Hispanic Americans have made over the years. It would take a lifetime to highlight every Hispanic American who has accomplished great things, but the following figures are especially inspiring:
Dr. Hector P. Garcia
One of America’s most decorated Hispanics, Dr. Hector P. Garcia was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. A few years later, Pope John Paul II inducted him into the Order of St. Gregory the Great. In both circumstances, he was recognized for his valiant efforts on behalf of Hispanic Americans — especially Hispanic American veterans, who he assisted by founding the American G.I. Forum.
Dr. Antonio C. Novello
The first Hispanic to serve as a United States Surgeon General, Dr. Antonio C. Novello put a lot of effort into improving the health of America’s women, minorities, and young people. She also placed a spotlight on the role of alcohol and tobacco in youth health. When she eventually left her post as Surgeon General and moved on to the United Nations Children’s Fund, she was praised by Bill Clinton’s administration for her impressive “vigor and talent.”
One of five Hispanic American men to challenge the role of segregation in California schools, Gonzalo Mendez is best known for his involvement in the famous Mendez v. Westminster case, which led to the desegregation of Hispanic American students into Mexican schools. Mendez was actually offered the opportunity to have his kids (but no other Hispanic Americans) attend Westminster Elementary School, but he refused — he was more interested in helping out the rest of the Mexican American community.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
The very first Supreme Court justice of Hispanic heritage, Sonia Sotomayor is known for her remarkable dissents regarding issues of gender and race identity. She has also spoken out passionately about the rights of alleged criminal offenders. In this respect, she has been compared on many occasions to former Chief Justice Earl Warren. She is proud to have accomplished her childhood dream of serving on the Supreme Court — and she’s eager to inspire young and ambitious Hispanic Americans.
Luis Walter Alvarez
The American Journal of Physics has referred to Luis Walter Alvarez as one of the “most brilliant” of the 20th century’s physicists. His work in the field of elementary particle physics led to a Nobel Prize in 1968. He was instrumental in the development of the hydrogen bubble chamber, which was ultimately responsible for the discovery of several resonance states.
From politics to athletics and everything in between, Hispanic Americans have made their mark — and they continue to do so every day. Their accomplishments are worthy of recognition not only during National Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year long.