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September 15 through October 15 marks Latinx Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions to American society of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson initiated the national observance of Hispanic Heritage week and it was expanded to a month-long celebration in 1988.  September 15 marks the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively.

Over the course of Latinx Heritage Month the California Civil Rights Law Group will pay tribute by spotlighting the contributions of members of the Latinx communities who have left an indelible mark on our country. We begin the month with a brief look at a civil rights activist, a poet, and a Supreme Court Justice:

Cesar Chavez Labor Leader, civil rights activist. Co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association,  Chavez used nonviolent tactics including protest marches, hunger strikes and boycotts to secure union rights for migrant farm workers in the 1960s. It is estimated that more than 17 million Americans participated in the Chavez-led Delano grape strike, the most successful boycott in US history, leading to the creation of the United Farm Workers union. Chavez also brought national attention to the dangers of pesticides to farm workers and was an early supporter of gay rights and a vocal opponent to the Vietnam War.

Gloria Anzaldúa Feminist theorist, author, poet and activist. A Mexican-American native of Texas, Anzaldúa fought segregation throughout her own education and early career as a teacher, then went on to document the Chicana struggle and resilience. Her poems and essays explore the anger and isolation of occupying the margins of culture and collective identity. Her essays are groundbreaking works in cultural, feminist, and queer theories.

Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court Justice. Born in New York to Puerto Rican-born parents, Sotomayor is the first Latina to sit as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor was part of the majority in two landmark Supreme Court Rulings: in King v. Burwell the Court upheld a critical component of the Affordable Care Act; Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same sex marriage in all fifty states. She is a role model for all civil rights practitioners including the attorneys and staff at CCRLG.

Dolores Huerta Feminist, teacher, civil rights activist. While working as a teacher in California’s Central Valley, Huerta saw her students arriving at school with empty stomachs and bare feet, a sight that ignited her lifelong passion to correct economic injustice. A firm believer in the power of political organizing to effect change, 25-year-old Huerta became the political director of the Community Service Organization. It was there that she teamed up with César Chavez to form the UFA. Huerta is credited with creating the union’s catch phrase “Sí se puede” (“Yes we can!”) in response to being told that she couldn’t organize a strike and a boycott in Arizona. In 2012, Huerta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. While leading the National Boycott of Table Grapes in New York, Huerta met with Gloria Steinem,  a meeting that consolidated Huerta’s views on the roles of women, “we need a feminist to be at the table when decisions are being made so that the right decisions will be made.” At age 90, Dolores Huerta continues to work with agricultural communities, organizing people to run for office and advocating on issues of health, education, and economic development.

Mario Molina Scientist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Mexican-born Chemist Molina discovered the depleting effect of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer then fought to announce the findings outside the scientific community. As a result of Molina’s work, laws were established to protect the ozone layer by regulating the use of CFCs. The 1995 Nobel Committee wrote, “By explaining the chemical mechanisms that affect the thickness of the ozone layer, [Molina and his colleagues] have contributed to our salvation from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez US House of Representatives. Following a grassroots campaign that did not take donations from corporations, in June 2018 Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest congresswoman in United States history. Born into a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez advocates for a progressive platform including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and the abolishment of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Congresswoman has condemned male privilege and systemic sexist behavior.

The California Civil Rights Law Group recognizes the rich and lasting contributions of Latinx leaders.