photo: Corbis

When I was a school girl, I distinctly remember how no one in my history books reflected who I was. The textbooks were filled with surface-level historical accounts of people I didn't find a cultural connection to. As I got older and discovered the joys of reading I also found that it opened my world up to people who contributed to the greatness of this country and our world and who were never mentioned in my school history books. Check out these six Latinas who you never learned about from your school's history book. 

Related From Vivala: Dolores Huerta Just Made History

Hilda Solis

Hilda Solis is a modern-day Latina trailblazer. She’s the third of seven children whose father is Mexican and mother hails from Nicaragua. Solis is known for being the first of many major accomplishments. From being the first in her family to graduate from college to becoming the first Latina elected to the California State Senate in 1994 and the first woman to win the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2000, its easy to see why she’s a game changer. On February 24, 2009, she became the first Latina to serve in the United States Cabinet. Chosen by President Barack Obama, Solis served as Secretary of Labor. Today, at the age of 58, Solis is the Los Angeles County Supervisor for the First District of Los Angeles County.

The Mirabal sisters

The Mirabal sisters were a force to be reckoned with. The three hermanas from the Dominican Republic — Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa — fervently opposed the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Raised in an affluent family, the Mirabal sisters were educated and determined to help overthrow the dictator even if it meant sacrificing their own lives. Minerva, the oldest sister, was the first to get involved in the underground movement. Soon all three sisters, also known as the Butterflies, became heavily involved in overthrowing Trujillo and were tossed in and out of some of the most torturous jails on multiple occasions because of it. Still, they refused to give up their fight for democracy and civil liberties to everyone on the island. On November 25, 1960, three of Trujillo’s henchmen led the sisters to a mountain road between Puerto Plata and Santiago where they were clubbed, beaten, and then strangled to death. Patria was 36, Minerva, 34, and Maria just 24 years old. “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime, we have to fight against it,” Patria once said. “And I am willing to give up everything, including my life if necessary.”

Jovita Idar

Jovita Idar knew the power of education. The Mexicana born in Laredo, Texas, in 1885 was the first president of the League of Mexican Women, which formed in October 1911, its principal effort was providing education to poor children. Idar used her voice as a journalist writing for her father’s weekly newspaper, La Crónica, to cover stories on educational and social discrimination against Mexican-Americans, deteriorating economic conditions, decreasing use of the Spanish language, the loss of Mexican culture, and lynchings of Hispanics. 

Idar ran the newspaper after her father died in 1914. She married Bartolo Juárez and moved to San Antonio, where she was an active member of the Democratic party and continued being involved in education and her community. Jovita Juárez died in San Antonio in 1946.

Julia de Burgos

Poet Julia de Burgos was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and grew up in the barrio Santa Cruz. She was a teacher on the island before moving to the island of Manhattan, New York City, where she worked as a journalist and served as the art and culture editor for the newspaper Pueblos Hispanos. Before there was anything like the Nuyorican Poets Café, De Burgos penned poetry that screamed feminism and shouted social justice. “Her feminist politics and her Afro-Caribbean ideas allow us to read her as a precursor to contemporary U.S. Latina/o writers,” Vanessa Pérez Rosario wrote in a 2011 profile of De Brugos for Ms. Magazine’s blog. She died in Harlem in 1953, but her legacy lives on in the many schools, parks, and cultural centers named after her, like the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center in East Harlem and the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Alicia Alonso

Grande Alicia! #primaballerina #95sbirthday #congrats #cubanballet #aliciaalonso

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Alicia Alonso took the ballet world by storm with her debut performance in 1938. But the Havana, Cuba–native only performed for a couple of years before she was forced to leave the American Ballet Theatre because of eye problems. She returned in 1943 and founded her namesake dance company in Cuba in 1948. Although she was partially blind, Alonso’s prancing feet never slowed. Throughout the ‘50s she danced for many companies, and in 1957 became the first Western dancer invited to perform in the Soviet Union. Alonso was awarded UNESCO’s Pablo Picasso Medal in 1999 for her notable contributions to arts/culture. Today she is 94 years old.

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta was born in Dawson, New Mexico in 1930. She got her teaching degree at Stockton College, but only taught for a short period of time before she realized her bigger purpose. The poor living conditions of her students, many who were children of Mexican farm workers, forced her to resign and become a labor activist. Huerta started the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960, which set up voter registration drives, lobbied politicians to allow non-U.S. citizen migrant workers to receive public assistance and pensions, and provide Spanish-language voting ballots and driver’s tests. 

This was all before she met Cesar Chavez. Huerta and Chavez met shortly after and instantly became a power team, cofounding the Farm Workers Association (FWA). By 1965, the AWA and FWA combined and become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFW). Huerta’s exceptional work included creating the political climate for the passage of the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act. She’s been honored and awarded several times over the course of her life and currently continues her work as an activist today at the age of 85.