This story originally appeared in Latina magazine's December 2016/January 2017 issue. With reporting by Jesús Triviño Alarcón and Taiia Smart Young.
We present to you the 2016 Latinas of the Year! Our honorees conquered the past 365 days with intelligence, athleticism, and overall badassery.
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Netflix owns our binge-watching eyeballs. While Marvel’s Luke Cage was all the rage this year, the streaming service’s OITNB produced one of the strongest seasons on television. OITNB was multicultural before it it was fashionable; it is female-driven and (primarily) female-written; and it made stars out of actresses (Selenis Leyva, Jessica Pimentel) once relegated to minor roles on Law & Order.
With power and grace on the tennis court, Monica made history at the Rio Olympics as the first Puerto Rican athlete ever to win a gold medal.
Hernandez instantly became America’s sweetheart with her puppies-andsugar demeanor and a gymnastics routine radiating youthful exuberance and Latina swag. She hopes she and Puig will inspire other Latinas in sports. “We showed that anything is possible if you work hard enough,” Hernandez told Latina.
Selena Quintanilla was more omnipresent than ever this year, thanks to the M.A.C x Selena makeup line. And it all started with radio producer/entrepreneur Patty Rodriguez and her Change.org petition, with almost 40,000 signatures, urging the brand to create the Selena-inspired line. It sold out quickly. “Selena is us. She looked like us,” said Rodriguez. “The M.A.C line showed our economic power and what can happen when brands genuinely speak to us.”
The visionary founding principal of Brooklyn’s Mott Hall Bridges Academy isn’t resting on her Humans of New York laurels. In her debut book, The Bridge to Brilliance, and her must-see TED Talk, the Afro-Latina passionately reminds us that with better schools and adults who invest in education, even our most vulnerable children can become future engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
Adele who? Lovato truly shed her teenybopper skin in 2016 with newly mature and powerful work, showcased on her Future Now tour with Nick Jonas. Her vocal artistry at a White House event earned lavish praise from Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), seconded later by Patti LaBelle. “For those icons, legends, to be talking about me like that is amazing,” Lovato gushed. Real recognizes real.
Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez has a huge set of cojones—and we mean that in the best possible way. She’ll shut down social media trolls in a heartbeat and declare that she is Latina enough, thank you very much, even if her Spanish isn’t perfecto. And to tell Deepwater Horizon director Peter Berg that a Latina had to be cast as Andrea Fleytas, one of the only women on that ill-fated BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico— that took guts. Her determined advocacy, plus her talent, won Rodriguez the career-changing role, allowing another brilliant Latina to be featured on-screen as an integral part of American history.
It’s not often that a model or beauty queen becomes a symbol of feminism and strength. But in the face of the ethnic hate-mongering and sexist diatribes of Donald Trump, former Miss Universe Machado stood firm. “I will continue taking positive steps for the Latino community,” she said on Instagram. “I will continue being an activist for women’s rights and fighting for the respect we deserve.” Can Machado be Miss Universe forever?
“I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows,” Martinez declared in her Texas high school valedictory. Seven years ago, her family applied for U.S. citizenship and they’re still waiting for approval. In the meantime, Martinez is attending Yale University on a full scholarship.
Fans know Diane Guerrero as the actress from Orange Is the New Black but with the release of her book, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (which is also spawning a CBS drama), she put a high-profile face onto the usually anonymous plight of undocumented immigrants. In Guerrero’s heartbreaking account, we learn how her parents and brother were deported when she was 14. This harrowing experience made her an outspoken champion of immigration reform.