While many Americans say that they were glad to see 2016 come to an end, it’s important to remember that the year wasn’t a total disaster. Looking back over the past 12 months, it’s clear that a lot of our nation’s most positive changes and captivating moments were initiated by strong, proud, and gifted Latino-Americans. Let’s take a look at 2016’s most influential Latinos and their accomplishments.
The Top Five Latino Superstars of 2016
Catherine Cortez Masto
The former Nevada attorney general made history this November when she became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate. It was a tough race as she and her Republican opponent, Joe Heck, were neck and neck in the polls. President Obama himself publicly endorsed Cortez Masto, describing the Nevada Senate race as an opportunity to elect the first Latina senator, “who believes everyone deserves a chance.”
On election night, the 62-year-old politician won the seat representing the 13th Congressional District in New York, making him not only the first Dominican-American to be elected to Congress, but also the first formerly undocumented congressman in U.S. history. Espaillat and his parents moved to New York to live with his grandparents when he was nine years old.
“We came on a visitor’s visa and overstayed our visa, and we were for a short term of time without a green card, and then we had to go back to get a green card to be able to be admitted to the country legally,” said Espaillat. “For any child or family that’s a traumatic experience particularly when you’re already united with the rest of your family.”
This 36-year-old New York native is well on his way to becoming the youngest person ever to win the EGOT — the coveted combination of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. In 2016, his Broadway masterpiece “Hamilton: An American Musical” won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album and 11 Tony awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Miranda used the spotlight to talk about issues that are near to his heart, including Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
“I have a lot of family who are struggling in Puerto Rico,” he said. “That’s not an abstract issue to me, that is a life or death issue occurring with my family.”
While Congressman Espaillat and his family were able to obtain green cards, not all immigrants are so fortunate. During her high school graduation this past June, an ivy-league-bound valedictorian named Larissa Martinez revealed that she was an undocumented immigrant.
“I decided to stand before you today and reveal these unexpected realities because this might be my only chance to convey the truth to all of you that undocumented immigrants are people too,” she said during her speech.
Martinez was actually the second valedictorian to announce her undocumented status last summer. Mayte Lara Ibarra, who had been awarded a full ride to the University of Texas Austin, courageously revealed via Twitter during her graduation ceremony that she was undocumented.
Made famous for her role in the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” this Dominican-American actress has been rejected by fashion designers and attacked by body-shamers for her curvy figure. In 2016, Polanco shut down the haters and became a constant source of body positivity for women of all shapes and sizes.
Sadly, only 4% of women around the world actually consider themselves beautiful, so it’s no wonder the U.S. cosmetics industry generates about $56.63 billion in revenue every year. However, Polanco has encouraged women across the globe to love their bodies, telling Vogue that she wants to break barriers.
“Even though I’m a size eight or 10, I still can look as great as someone who’s a size zero,” she said.
According to census reports, Spanish is the second most widely-spoken language in the world. This may come as a surprise to many Americans, but with roughly 387 million native speakers, more people on earth speak Spanish than English.
The individuals listed above are only a five of the many Latinos in the U.S. and abroad who have moved and inspired us over the past year. In the darkest moments of 2016, these brave, gifted, and influential leaders gave us a ray of hope for the future.