The Start of the Most Recent Cycle of the Mayan Calendar

August 11, 3117 BCE.  Yes, you read this date correctly, 3117 BCE, Before Christian Era.  That’s over 5129 years ago.  This date is the beginning of the most recent cycle of the Mayan Calendar, which completed on December 21, 2012.  As noted, the world did not end, so hopefully, you did not tell off your irritating boss or go shopping with your 401(k) funds.  The event was celebrated in the Mayan world, as a new era began.  Hopefully in this era, the Mayans will gain respect and acknowledgement of their sophisticated and complex culture, and they won’t have to wait another 5000 years for this overdue recognition.  (To really, really learn about Mayan culture and not the latest hype, please read a book by Professor Dennis Tedlock.)

19th Anniversary of the “Tent City”

On August 3, 2012, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio celebrated the 19th anniversary of the “Tent City”, a camp that he established in Maricopa County to imprison undocumented people and criminals.  The tents are unheated in winter and uncooled in summer—inside temperatures have been recorded as high as 145 degrees.  To humiliate these people, Arpaio dresses them in old-school chain-gang stripes, and forces male prisoners to wear pink underpants.  Tent City is ranked as one of America’s 10 worst prisons.   A 2011 Justice Department report found “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” in the jails run by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

Goya Foods Opening

With a stellar concert line-up and a donation of 75,000 pounds of food to local charities, Goya Foods launched its nationwide 75th anniversary party on August 19, 2011.  The concert line-up included Latino stars Marc Anthony, Ana Gabriel, and Marco Antonio Solis.  Now a billion dollar enterprise with over 3,000 employees, Goya Foods was founded by a Spanish husband and wife team, at a small storefront in Lower Manhattan, New York.   Goya is the leading Hispanic food company in the US, offering over 1,500 products.

A Chilling Discovery

The Mexican Naval Infantry made a dark discovery on August 25, 2010, when they found 72 corpses near the US Mexican border.  The victims were believed to be migrants from Central and South America, murdered by a drug cartel.  This grim incident is the largest single body count since Mexican President Felipe Calderón made his courageous decision to battle the Mexican drug cartels.  While the victims lie in the earth south of the US border, the customers for the drug cartels are the unscathed law breakers north of the border:  Mexico’s horrible drug war is fueled by unlawful sales of illegal drugs willingly purchased by US consumers.

Juanita’s Foods Back to School

Juanita’s Foods, a leading producer of prepared and homemade style Mexican cuisine, opened its Back to School promotional sweepstakes on August 31, 2009.  The program helped parents and educators struggling to feed their students during The Great Recession, with 50 prizes of $1,000 nationwide.  “One of the primary reasons for the growth of the US Hispanic market is that parents want their children to have the best education possible. Juanita’s understands this and is eager to lend a helping hand during these difficult economic times.” said Mark De La Torre, Juanita’s Foods Co-CEO.  The family owned business was founded in 1946.

Sonya Sotomayor Oath of Office

On August 8, 2009, the first Latina Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonya Sotomayor, was sworn in to office.   Chief Justice John G. Roberts administered the Constitutional Oath.  Sotomayor’s mother attended and held the family Bible for the ceremony.  (Image by UPI/ Steve Petteway)

Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez Inaugurated as President of Paraguay

On August 15, 2008, Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez was inaugurated as President of the nation of Paraguay.   Lugo was a Catholic bishop, and resigned from the Church to pursue politics.  His election marked the end of six decades of right wing rule by the military dictatorship, and was bitterly opposed by the regime.  Lugo campaigned by walking barefoot in poor sectors of the country; his key slogan was “Lugo has a heart”.   His term in office has been marred by paternity scandals.  In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Méndez stated that, “At the end of my five-year term, I want Paraguay to have changed its international image, to be seen as a serious country where laws and the constitution are obeyed and contracts respected. We want a fairer society, not one where a tiny group creams off the profits.”

First Hispanic Woman Earns Appointment as General Officer in US Marine Corps

The Marines are looking for a few good men – and also found a few good women.   On August 2, 2006, Major General Angelina Salinas was the first Hispanic woman to earn the appointment of  a general officer in the US Marine Corps.  Two days later Salinas assumed her command at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, and also as the first woman to ever command a recruit depot.

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Dora the Explorer 2000

On August 14, 2000, one of our most famous and talented 21st century Latinas emerged onto the public stage:  Dora the Explorer!  Dora Marquez became a regular series that year on the Nickelodeon cable channel.  Dora is the inspiration of Valerie Walsh Valdes, Chris Gifford and Eric Weiner.  Dora is eight years old, and embarks on weekly adventures to discover new places and to assist people.  She teaches her English language viewers words and phrases in Spanish along the way.  Reportedly, Dora’s birth certificate and other official documents are in order.

Opening of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives

August 10, 1998 marked the inaugural opening of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.  The mission of the center is to disseminate and advance understanding and knowledge of the contributions of Latinas and Latinos to the culture, society, history, arts, and sciences of the US.   The Center’s web site features a Virtual Museum, online collections, history resources, and more.  Please visit www.latino.si.edu

Hispanic Heritage in American Girl Dolls

On August 11, 1997, Publisher’s Weekly announced that Josefina Montoya, the latest American Girl in the Pleasant Company collection of historical dolls, would debut in September.  Maria Josefina Montoya is a nine-year old Hispanic girl living in northern New Mexico in 1824.  Josefina and her three sisters live on a rancho near Santa Fe, and are adjusting to life after the death of their mother.  Author Valerie Tripp wrote the accompanying books, and extensively researched the history of New Mexico during that time period.

Happy Birthday to Luis Alberto Urrea

Happy Birthday to writer Luis Alberto Urrea, born on August 20, 1955 in Tijuana, Mexico.  His father was Mexican and his mother was New Yorker; Urrea was born in Mexico and raised in San Diego from the age of 3. He earned his BA at the University of California at San Diego, and his MA at the University of Colorado.  Urrea is best known for his “border” trilogy, comprising the nonfiction works “Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border” (1993), “By the Lake of Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border” (1996), and “Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life” (1998).   Urrea was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.  In an interview with Writer Magazine, Urrea described his work as, “I am interested in the complexities of the human soul and the sacredness that hides in every day. I would characterize my writing as a form of witness and personal devotion, in that it is my spiritual practice as well as my art and career.”

First Latina Woman Serves in the US Congress

On August 29, 1989, the first Latina woman to serve in the US Congress began her first term.  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, Cuba on July 15, 1952, and immigrated to the US with her family when she was 7.  She earned a BA and MS from Florida International University, and began her career as an educator.  After successfully holding several offices in Florida’s state government, she ran for Congress.  Ros-Lehtinen is a staunch conservative on most issues, and an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro.  However, she is one of three Republican members of the LGBT Equality Caucus, of which she is a founding member and a vice-chairperson. She returned to Congress again in 2013, re-elected by a decisive majority of her constituents.

Happy Birthday to Alexa Vega

Happy Birthday to singer and actress Alexa Vega, born on August 27, 1988 in Miami, Florida.  Vega’s father was from Colombia and her mother is a norteamericana and former model.  Even at her young age, Vega already has a long career in television, beginning with Burt Reynolds’ TV series, “Evening Shade”.  Vega has sung on stage in Broadway, and she’s starred in blockbuster films such as “Spy Kids”.  A natural blonde, Vega dyes her hair brown to graciously accommodate the North American entertainment industry, which apparently sincerely believes that 390 million Latinos have only one shade of hair color.

Ronald Reagan nominated Lauro Fred Cavazos as Secretary of Education

On August 9, 1988, US President Ronald Reagan nominated Lauro Fred Cavazos as Secretary of Education.  Cavazos was the first Hispanic to hold a cabinet post.  He earned a BA in zoology, an MA in cytology, and a Ph D in physiology.  Cavazos also served as college president and professor.  He is a strong advocate of bilingualism in education.  Cavazos is a sixth-generation Texan with a Mexican heritage.

“Born in East LA”

August 21, 1987 was the release date of the comedy, “Born in East LA”, written and directed by Cheech Marin of the Cheech & Chong comedy team.  The film centers on a US citizen, Rudy Robles, mistakenly deported to Mexico in an immigration raid.   Rudy struggles through Mexican, unable to speak Spanish, only the German language acquired during his service in that country with the US Army.   After falling in love with a Mexican woman, numerous attempts to cross the border into his home country, and befriending several Mexican youths, Rudy manages to return home.

The First Bilingual Radio Station in Denver

The mile high airwaves of Denver, Colorado, were rocked with a new sound, as the first bilingual radio station in Denver made its debut on August 29, 1985.  The station was the fulfilled dream of Florence Hernández-Ramos , the first Hispanic female president and general manager of a public radio station.   The station has a jazz format; as Hernández-Ramos noted in an interview, “People have a stereotype about a Hispanic controlled station. They are shocked to discover we have a jazz format.”  The station now broadcasts the very best in jazz, Latin jazz and blues – in addition to fifteen locally-produced, host-inspired, culturally diverse programs.  Music shows are integrated with NPR news, our LOCAL morning program First Take with Lando and Chavis, and special features.

Mary Joe Fernandez wins a main draw match

Audiences cheered as 14 year old Mary Joe Fernandez won a main draw match at the women’s US Open in the first round.  Fernandez was born in the Dominican Republic, and immigrated to the US as a child with her family.  Fernandez continued this dazzling start to her career, placing as runner-up in three Grand Slam singles tournaments and winning two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals. She now contributes to her cherished sport as coach and commentator.

Equal Educational Opportunities Act 1974

August 21, 1974 is the effective date of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), a federal law that prohibits discrimination against faculty, staff and students, including racial segregation of students, on the basis of race, color, gender, or national origin.  The law requires a school district to take action to overcome barriers to students’ equal participation.

Lee Trevino Hits his First Hole-in-one On a Professional Tour

On August 17, 1973, Mexican American golfing superstar Lee Trevino hit his first hole-in-one on a professional tour.  Growing up in Texas, his impoverished family lived in a house with no running water or electricity – but it was at the back of a field next to a golf course.  Trevino made his first golf club at age six, cutting down a discarded club to fit his small stature.  He watched golfers on the course during the day, and snuck over to play on the empty course at night.  At 17, he lied about his age and joined the US Marines, serving for four years in Asia.  There, Trevino played golf with the Marine Division tournaments in Japan and the Philippines.  He finally took lessons from the Professional Golf Association to qualify for the tournament, and by the 1970’s Trevino dominated the sport of golf.  In an interview with Time magazine, the overwhelmingly popular Trevino said, “I represent the guy who goes to the driving range, the municipal player, the truck driver, the union man, the guy who grinds it out.”

Happy Birthday to Cameron Michelle Diaz

Happy birthday to Cameron Michelle Diaz born on August 30, 1972, in San Diego, California. Her father is Cuban American and her mother has a heritage of German, English, and Native American ancestry.  Diaz had planned to study zoology, but life intervened in the form of a Hollywood party, where as a dazzlingly beautiful teen-ager she met a modeling agent (like, really).  Diaz began a modeling career at age 17, and then starred in the film, The Mask”, which defied expectations as a comedic megahit.  Her memorable roles are in films that include “There’s Something about Mary”, “Gangs of New York”, “My Best Friends Wedding” and “The Green Hornet”.  Diaz says of her career, “…I just want to tell great stories as I go.”

 

Happy Birthday to Ariadne Thalia Sodi y Miranda

Happy Birthday to singer and actress Ariadne Thalia Sodi y Miranda born on August 26, 1972, in Mexico City, Mexico.  Thalia, as she is known to her legions of fans worldwide, began her career at age 4. She has starred in a host of entertainment formats:  singing groups, stage musicals, movie and video, TV-variety shows, and in Mexico’s soaps, known as telenovelas.  She writes in performs songs in Spanish, English, French, Tagalog, and Portuguese, and has sold over 40 million albums worldwide.  A savvy businesswoman, she has launched a clothing line, eyewear collection, and candy products with Hershey’s. Thalia became a US citizen in 2006.

Hugo Banzer Suárez inaugurated President of Bolivia

On August 22, 1971, Hugo Banzer Suárez took power as the President of Bolivia in a military coup.  The politician, military general and dictator was another less than illustrious graduate of the US Defense Department’s School of the Americas.  He was also trained at Fort Hood Armored Cavalry School in Texas and spent time in Washington, DC, as a military attaché.  Many observers reported that Banzer’s rule was viciously oppressive, as he and his regime jailed, exiled and murdered labor leaders and leftist politicians.  More than 15,000 people were arrested, 19,000 fled Bolivia, and 200 were assassinated during his term in office.  In another political incident, over 100 Bolivian citizens were massacred in 1974.

Happy Birthday to Mary Joe Fernandez

Happy Birthday to tennis star Mary Joe Fernandez, born on August 19, 1971 in the Dominican Republic.  Her family immigrated to Florida when she was an infant.  She was swinging her first tennis racket at age 3, and by age 13, she won both the US Tennis Association Championship and the US Clay Court Championship.  Fernandez represented her home country in the Olympics, and won two gold medals for her country.

Death of Three Good Men

The shots cracked through the hot dry summer air, and three men were killed, including Ruben Salazar, a noted Los Angeles Times columnist and local TV station manager.  An anti-war demonstration against the unpopular Vietnam War was raging in Laguna Park in East Los Angeles on August 29, 1970.  The protest organized by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee (NCMC) and Salazar, who was a lead reporter on Latino affairs, was covering the story.  Salazar was sipping a beer in the nearby Silver Dollar Café, when a Los Angeles County sheriff fired a tear gas canister into the restaurant.  The Mexican-born Salazar was reporting on law enforcement abuses, and his death sparked outrage and condemnation among the Chicano and Anglo communities.  Salazar was later honored with a US postage stamp, among other commemorations.  (Please see December 19, 1969 for more on the NCMC.)

Misael Pastrana Borrero, President of Colombia

After a close election with a former military dictator, Misael Pastrana Borrero, a lawyer and former business executive, began his term as President of Colombia on August 7, 1970.  A lawyer and business executive, Borrero began his public service as a diplomat to the Vatican, and also served as Colombia’s Ambassador to the US and as Minister of several government agencies, including Development and Finance and Public Credit.  As expected, Colombia’s social and economic problems were a challenge for Borrero throughout his term.  As a conservative, he protected the rights of large landowners and commercial farms, and promoted the housing industry.  His reforms did not move rapidly enough for the disaffected workers, farmers, and students, who continued to call for stronger measures to transform the economy.

Happy Birthday to Cesar Millan

Happy Birthday to Cesar Millan, known worldwide as “The Dog Whisperer”.  Millan was born on August 27, 1969 in Culiacan, Mexico.  He first began working with dogs while farming with his grandfather.  His goal was to become the best dog trainer in the world and to go to Hollywood, grand goals considering that he had no money and no English language skills.  He immigrated to the US, and spent a month living on the street before find a job at a dog-grooming parlor. In 1994, stars Will and Jada Pinkett Smith hired Millan to work with their dogs in exchange for English lessons.  His reputation continued to grow, eventually earning him the ultimate 21st century American blessing – an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Millan views himself more as a dog therapist than dog trainer.  His reality TV program is viewed in over 55 countries, with an audience of over 11 million people in the US.   In 2005, Millan received a Genesis Award commendation from the Humane Society for his work in rehabilitating of shelter animals.  (Image by DodgesMom Photography)

Ana Maria Perera becomes a US citizen

On August 11, 1967, editor and civil rights activist Ana Maria Perera became a US citizen.  Perera was born in Cuba, and earned her masters and doctorate at the University of Havana.  She began her professional career on the technical staff of the Organization for American States, and later worked at the United Nations.  She is committed to improving the status of Hispanic women.  After gaining her citizenship, she began her public service in the US government, including the Department of Education.  In In 1972, Perera founded the National Association of Cuban-American Women, which is open to all Latina nationalities.  Perera is a strong promoter of education for minority women in the field of technology and computer systems.

The Life of Everett Alvarez

On August 5, 1964, Navy pilot Everett Alvarez was the first US aviator shot down during the Vietnam War.  He endured 8 years and 7 months of brutal captivity as an enemy combatant by the North Vietnamese.  Alvarez served on the President’s Task Force to improve Health Care Delivery for our Nation’s Veterans.  He earned several awards, including as one of the top 25 Great Federal Employees by the Center for Excellence in Government.  During the Vietnam War, about 25% of the front line casualties were Hispanics.  At that time, Hispanics comprised only about 5% of the US population.

Hispanic Civil Rights Leaders Protest in Los Angeles, California

On August 9, 1963, civil rights leaders marched through downtown Los Angeles, California to protest the city’s failure to integrate its schools.  Among them was superstar Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican actress, singer, dancer and political activist.  This was not Moreno’s first contribution to the civil rights movement; she also supported campaigns led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and in 1964 briefly worked for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  She is the only woman in the entertainment industry to win all four top awards: Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Emmy.  (Photo by The Heart Truth)

Happy Birthday to Republican Governor Brian Edward Sandoval

Happy Birthday to Republican Governor Brian Edward Sandoval, born on August 5, 1963, in Redding, California.  When he took office in 2011, Sandoval was the first Hispanic elected to this post in Nevada.  Sandoval was also the first Latino in Nevada elected as Attorney General and appointed as a US district judge.   Sandoval earned a BA and a law degree at Ohio State University.  Sandoval has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Anti-Defamation League’s 2003 “Torch of Liberty Award” and the Latino Coalition’s 2004 “Most Influential Hispanic in the US Award”.

Happy Birthday to Demián Bichir Nájera

Happy Birthday to movie star Demián Bichir Nájera, born on August 1, 1963 in Mexico City, Mexico.   His family is in the entertainment business, and Nájera first traveled to the US with an acting troop at age 14.  While he has been a celebrity in Mexico, his first big splash in el Norte was the 2011 movie, “A Better Life”.  He received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a struggling Mexican immigrant trying to raise his son and create a better life for them in California.   In an interview with NPR, Nájera spoke of his role as, “It was like ‘Hamlet’ in many ways. …one of those bigger-than-life roles, and I fell in love with it immediately….” (Photo by David Shankbone)

Debut of “Sabado Gigante”

Spanish language television history was made on August 8, 1962, with the debut of “Sabado Gigante” (Giant Saturday) on Chilean television.   The creation of Chilean native Don Francisco (born Mario Kreutzberger Blumenfeld), this television show is one of the most popular in the world.  The variety show features comedy, dance, music, and audience contests.  In 1986, Univision offered Don Francisco an opportunity in its US-based line-up, and the show continued to climb in popularity.  Over 100 million people in more than 30 countries are fans of the show, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. (Photo from Univision.com)

Happy Birthday to Antonio Banderas

Happy Birthday to the talented Antonio Banderas, actor, singer, producer, and director, born on August 10, 1960 in Malaga, Spain.  He began acting in street theaters at age 14.  As he recounted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “I remember I couldn’t even (afford to) take a bus, so I had to walk six miles to get an audition.”  For his first Hollywood role in “The Mambo Kings”, Banderas stipulated in his contract that he would enroll in a Berlitz class – he did not speak English, and learned his lines phonetically.  The now multi-millionaire actor and director starred in blockbuster films such as “Spy Kids”, “Shrek”, “The Mask of Zorro”, and “Puss in Boots”.  (Image from DreamWorks).

Happy birthday to Madeline Stowe-Mora

Happy birthday to Madeline Stowe-Mora, born on August 18, 1958 in Eagle Rock, California.  Her mother emigrated from Costa Rica.  Mora graduated from the University of Southern California film school, intent on being a film director.  She starred in miniseries such as “The Gangster Chronicles” and “Blood and Orchids”; her breakout role was 1992’s “Last of the Mohicans”.  As of 2012, the award winning actress starred in the TV series, “Revenge”.  Besides enchanting audiences, Mora co-founded the nonprofit aid organization, “Artists for Peace and Justice”, which provides assistance worldwide to better people’s lives.  (Photo by ABC News)

Happy Birthday to Alberto Salazar

Happy Birthday to Alberto Salazar, one of the USA’s most talented marathon runners, born in Havana, Cuba on August 7, 1958.  His father fought in Castro’s rebel army, but became disillusioned with Castro and Che Guevera, and immigrated to Florida in 1960.  Salazar trained at the University of Oregon, where his coach instructed him to run up thousands of stadium steps with an inner tube filled with sand on his shoulders to improve his technique.   Salazar won the New York City Marathon in 1980 and 1981 and the Boston Marathan in 1982.  He qualified for the US Oympic team in 1980 (the team did not compete due to the international boycott of the Moscow Olympics).  In his first New York Marathon, he achieved a time of 2:09:41, a course record and the fastest marathon debut in history.  (Cover Image of Sports Illustrated)

Happy Birthday to Alberto Gonzalez

Happy Birthday to Alberto Gonzalez, born on August 4, 1955, in Houston, Texas.  Gonzalez and his seven brothers and sisters grew up in a two-bedroom house without hot water or a telephone.   Gonzalez graduated from Rice College and received his law degree from Harvard University.  Gonzalez worked at a law firm in Texas, and began his meteoric political rise with President George W. Bush.  Bush appointed him as general counsel during Bush’s first term as governor, and later as White House Counsel when Bush was elected as US President.  In 2005, Gonzalez became the nation’s first Hispanic US Attorney General.  Gonzalez’s public service as Attorney General included several controversies with Congress, and he resigned in 2007.  He has returned to practicing law in Texas.

Creation of the Piña Colada

With a shake and splash of rum, the famed national drink of Puerto Rico, the piña colada, was officially created on August 16, 1954.  The momentous event occurred at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico by cocktail artist and bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero.  Monchito had been tasked with creating a new signature drink for the hotel.  After three months of arduous work, blending, experimenting, and presumably, tasting numerous trials, the official drink was completed.   The piña colada, which literally translates as “strained pineapple”, is made from pineapple, creamed coconut, and rum.  You do not have to be Latino to enjoy it.

Happy Birthday to Lincoln Díaz-Balart

Happy Birthday to politician Lincoln Díaz-Balart, born in Havana, Cuba on August 13, 1954.  His family fled from Cuba in 1959, when he was four years old.  Balart was educated in Europe and the US, earning his law degree at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University.  In 1979, he began practicing law in Miami, and worked for the Legal Services of Greater Miami, which provided free legal services to the poor. In 1986, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and later to the Florida State Senate, where he served until he earned a seat in the US Congress in 1992.  Balart is a Republican who strongly supported the embargo against the Cuban government.

Happy Birthday to Oscar Jerome Hijuelos

Happy Birthday to novelist Oscar Jerome Hijuelos, born in New York City on August 24, 1951.  Hijuelos is the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which he was awarded for his story, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”   This book was adapted as a movie in 1992 and as a Broadway musical in 2005.  His novels focus on the immigrant experience in America, drawing on his Cuban American heritage.  His latest work, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul”, continues the story of the Mambo Kings, but this time from the perspective of – you guessed it, movie fans – Maria herself.  Hijuelos earned a BA and an MA in creative writing from the City University of New York.

Happy Birthday to Stephanie Gonzalez

Happy Birthday to politician and public servant Stephanie Gonzalez, born on August 12, 1950 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Gonzales’ father emigrated from Mexico; her mother’s family has been in the state for over 400 years.  Gonzales graduated from the Loretto Academy for Girls in Santa Fe.  Gonzales has served in State Government for over 20 years, including two terms as Secretary of State (1991-1998).

Happy Birthday to Paul Espinosa

Happy Birthday to documentary film producer and anthropologist Paul Espinosa, born on August 8, 1950, in Alamosa, Colorado.  Espinosa earned a BA from Brown University and an MA and Ph D from Stanford.  He has created numerous award winning documentaries and films, funded by organizations such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ford Foundation.  His work includes, “The Trail North”, “Ballad of an Unsung Hero”, and “The Lemon Grove Incident”, centering on civil rights struggles in the US.

 

Happy Birthday to Lydia Villa-Komaroff

Happy birthday to Lydia Villa-Komaroff, an award winning molecular biologist born on August 7, 1947, in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Villa is of Spanish and Mexican heritage.   Villa earned her Ph D in cellular biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  She has taught and conducted research at several prominent hospitals, including Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston.  She held corporate positions in medical research companies, to effectively commercialize medical research and development.   Villa co-founded of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).   (Image from book jacket)

Silvestre Santana Herrera honored by President Harry Truman

On August 23, 1945, Medal of Honor winner Silvestre Santana Herrera rolled his wheelchair across the White House lawn to receive his award from President Harry Truman.  Herrera was a soldier in the US Army, and received the medal for his heroic actions during World War II, in France.   He charged an enemy position and was badly wounded by mine explosions.  He continued fighting, allowing his fellow soldiers to take cover.   Herrera was born in Camargo, Mexico, and was brought to the US by his uncle when he was 18 months old

Happy Birthday to Dr. Antonia Coello Novello

Happy Birthday to Dr. Antonia Coello Novello, pediatrician and US Surgeon General, born on August 23, 1944 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.  Novello is the first woman, first Hispanic, and first Puerto Rican appointed as US Surgeon General.  At her swearing in ceremony at the White House, Novello quipped, “The American dream is alive and well today … I might say today the West Side Story comes to the West Wing.”  Novello had interned at the University of Michigan Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, and worked as deputy director at the National Institute of Health.

Signing of the Mexican Farm Labor Program Agreement

During World War II, workers in North America were in short supply as the labor force supported the war effort.  On August 4, 1942, the US and Mexican governments signed the Mexican Farm Labor Program Agreement, to legalize and control Mexican farm workers along the border.  Known as the “Bracero [manual laborer] Program”, it stipulated a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour and humane treatment with adequate shelter, food, and sanitation.  US agents went to Mexico to recruit workers.  The program managed the inflow of workers into the US, and continued through 1964.

Happy Birthday to Isabel Allende

Happy Birthday to award winning novelist and political activist Isabel Allende, born in Lima, Peru on August 2, 1942.  Her father was a Chilean diplomat and her uncle was former Chilean President, Salvador Allende.  Salvador Allende was assassinated in a coup widely believed to be engineered by the CIA.  Isabel, then a journalist, and her family fled to Venezuela, where she began writing her novels.  Her stories include “The House of the Spirits”, “Eva Luna”, and “Of Love and Shadows”.  “The House of the Spirits” is the story of the successive generations of a Latino family, of their loves, tragedies, and political intrigue. This novel was released as a film in the US in 1994.  Please see October 17, 1993 for more on this film.  (Image from The Isabel Allende Foundation)

Happy Birthday to Jerry Garcia

August 1, 1942 is the birthday of musician Jerry Garcia, a member of the iconic North American band, The Grateful Dead.   Garcia was the son of a Spanish ballroom jazz musician, and was born in San Francisco, California.  Garcia had a complicated life, with family tragedy and struggles with drug addiction, haloed by brilliant and ground breaking talent.   The Grateful Dead became one of rock and roll’s longest playing and most successful bands, embodying the 60’s counterculture movement.   Fans still honor him with Jerry Day, an annual celebration of Garcia’s life and music that started in 2002 in San Francisco (where else?).  A tribute to Garcia can also be found on supermarket shelves throughout America: Ben & Jerry named their popular “Cherry Garcia” ice cream for him.   (Image of Jerry Garcia commemorative print from Grateful Dead site)

Happy Bithrday to Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez

In our series of Hispanics-That-You-Didn’t-Know-Are-Hispanics, August 3, 1940, is the birthday of Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez, also known as Martin Sheen.  Sheen’s father was an immigrant from Galicia, Spain.  Sheen is an award-winning actor, and an activist for workers’ rights and the environment.  Sheen has been arrested over 60 times for exercising his US constitutional rights.  He has starred in iconic Hollywood blockbusters such as “Apocalypse Now” and on television series, “The West Wing”. (Photo by Brian McGuirk)

Happy Birthday to Remedios Díaz-Oliver

Happy Birthday to Remedios Díaz-Oliver, who was born on August 22, 1938, in Havana, Cuba.  As a well-educated young woman, Oliver had aspired to be a college professor, but that was before the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power.  Díaz-Oliver was jailed in Cuba for protesting government mail inspections.  In 1961, after her release, she moved with her husband and infant daughter to Miami.  Díaz-Oliver reinvented her career as a business woman. In 1968, Díaz-Oliver was the first woman to earn the “E” Award–Excellence in Export, presented by President Lyndon Johnson  In 1991, she co-founded the highly successful global business, All American Containers, one of the largest suppliers of glass, plastic and metal containers, tubes and dispensers, and plastic and metal closures in the US.

Happy Birthday to Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente, the revered humanitarian and stellar baseball player, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico on August 18, 1934.   Clemente was a phenomenal athlete and a complex human being.  He was a strong advocate of civil rights, and a dedicated supporter and associate of the Reverend Martin Luther King.  He wrote poetry, played the organ, and studied chiropractic medicine.  He died at age of 37 in a plane crash while flying relief supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.  After his death, he became the first Latin American elected to the US Baseball Hall of Fame.  Puerto Rican journalist Luis Mayoral wrote, “Clemente was our Jackie Robinson. He was on a crusade to show the American public what a Hispanic man, a black Hispanic man, was capable of.”

Happy Birthday to Herman Badillo

Happy Birthday to Herman Badillo, born on August 21, 1929.  Badillo is the first Puerto Rican born citizen to represent a district in the US Congress.   After the death of both of his parents, he moved from Puerto Rico to New York City at age 11 to live with his aunt.  He earned a BA from City College of New York and law degree from Brooklyn Law School.  Badillo was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1970 by 84% of the vote.  He was reelected three times with an impressive margin.  In Congress, he served on the Committees for Education and Labor, Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, and Small Business.

Happy Birthday to David Cardús

August 6, 1922 is the birthday of David Cardús, a physician and specialist in cardiology and biomathematics, born in Barcelona, Spain.  Cardús was renowned for his work with mathematical and computer applications for the study of physiological systems.  He also designed the centrifuges to study artificial gravity.  After spending his early career in Europe, he and his family moved to the US. He became a US citizen in 1969.

Happy Birthday to Roque Cordero

Roque Cordero, famed composer and conductor, was born in Panama City, Panama on August 16, 1917.  Cordero was educated at the University of Minnesota.  He was a guest conductor on stages in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Panama, Spain, and the US. Cordero received numerous awards for his work, including a Guggenheim fellowship.  He was a professor at the Illinois State University and Indiana University; the Latin American Music Center at the latter university holds a collection of his work.

First Ship Cruising Through the Panama Canal

With the roaring of rushing waters through expertly engineered locks, the first ship cruised through the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914.  The construction of a waterway to link the world’s greatest oceans had been considered by the Spanish, attempted by the French, and finally completed by the Americans.  The building of the canal was one of the world’s greatest engineering feats, and rocked international travel, economics and trade.  The history of the canal is a turbulent story of revolution, medical breakthroughs, massive labor movements, and staggering feats of engineering and determination.  Unfortunately, World War I broke out shortly before the canal’s opening, overshadowing this achievement in its contemporary times.

Death of José Maria Velasco

His last hours on earth were spent working on his lifelong passion.  José Maria Velasco was considered one of the most important Mexican painters of the 19th century, and one of the greatest landscape painters in history.  Veslasco was born in Temascaltzingo, Mexico, in 1840.  At the age of 18, he entered the Art Academy of San Carlos.  In 1893, he spent three months at the Chicago World’s Fair, exhibiting his award winning work.  He suffered a heart attack in 1902 from which he never fully recovered.  Velasco died on August 25, 1912, while painting a small landscape that remains unfinished.

 

“El Ciego Maravilloso” Begins

Many people would have given up on an adventurous, creative life after being blinded in an unfortunate accident at a young age, but not Arsenio Rodríguez.  The talented musician and band leader became known as “El Ciego Maravilloso” (the marvelous blind man) as he whirled African rhythms and the sounds of conga drums through Cuban music.   The innovative style was christened mambo.   Born in Güira de Macurijes, Cuba, on August 31, 1911, he immigrated to New York in 1952, where he performed at the Palladium Ballroom during the golden years of mambo and son montuno.  His music influenced younger musicians playing the next movement, salsa.  Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote of Rodríguez’ music, “If you are a guitar player, it will make you want to play. If you are a dancer, it will make you want to dance. [Rodríguez] makes you begin to hear rhythm as he does; he improves you.”

Happy Birthday to Cantinflas

Cantinflas, a celebrated comedic actor, was born Mario Moreno Reyes on August 12, 1911, in Mexico City, Mexico.  Cantinflas was from a poor family, and as a child, he was a street performer to earn money.  In 1937, Cantinflas married his wife and lifelong collaborator, Valentina Subareff.  He worked his way to Hollywood, where fellow comedian Charlie Chaplin, who saw one of Cantinflas’ earliest films, declared Cantinflas to be the greatest comedian alive.  He starred in 49 films, including the American film “Around the World in Eighty Day”.  He never forgot his background, and used his millions to aid Mexico’s poor.  People lined up at the door of his home in Mexico, and the generous philanthropist was always able to help.

Happy Birthday to Dolores del Rio

August 3, 1905 is the birthday of Dolores del Rio, born in Durango, Mexico.  Known as the female Valentino (or should we say that Valentino was the male Del Rio?), Del Rio was the queen of Hollywood nights, starring in more than 50 films.  A world traveler who learned several languages, Del Rio spent her many years in Hollywood in roles as – guess what for a gorgeous Latina? — a femme fatale.  After her career waned in the US, she returned to Mexico to inspire the golden age of Mexican cinema.  Not content with these accomplishments, she achieved true human glory for her work with orphans

Happy Birthday to Alice Dickerson Montemayor

August 6, 1902 is the birthday of Alice Dickerson Montemayor, born in Laredo Texas.  She graduated from high school in 1924 and attended night school at Laredo Business College, exceptional achievements at that time for a Mexican American from her impoverished background.   Montemayor was a pioneering political activist, and was the first woman elected to a number of national posts in the prestigious League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).   A thought leader and forerunner of the League of Wise Latina Women, Montemayor wrote that women were “able to see at a glance and penetrate into, in a second, what most men would not see with a searchlight or a telescope in an eternity.”

US forces drive Spanish out of the Philippines

During the Spanish American War, on August 13, 1898, US forces drove the Spanish out of Manila in the Philippines.  Manila had been a Spanish colony since the 16th century.   According to one report, US commanders were unaware of a ceasefire that was signed with the Spanish on the previous day.  A more cynical interpretation is that US commanders took Manila to prevent their courageous Philippine rebel allies from entering the city.  The US did keep the Philippine rebels out of their own capital, and this action, and the Americans’ refusal to acknowledge that nation’s independence, eventually led to the even bloodier Philippine-American War.

Happy Birthday to Joachim Fernández

August 14, 1896 is the birthday of politician, officer and gentleman, Joachim Fernández, born in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Fernández began his public service career as a tariff agent, and was elected to the state legislature in 1923.  He was later elected to the US House of Representatives and reelected four times.  Fernández served in Congress during the Great Depression, and was an ardent supporter of many programs to create jobs for the unemployed.  After his political career ended, Fernández was called to active duty as a lieutenant commander in the US Naval Reserve during World War II.

US forces invade Chile without visas or documents

On August 28, 1891, US troops landed in Chile without visas or documents, to protect the American consulate in Valparaiso, Chile.  A civil war was raging between the Chilean president and military.  Civilians had taken refuge at the consulate. (Picture from the Naval Department Library)

Happy Birthday to Jacinto Benavente y Martínez

August 12, 1866 is the birthday of Jacinto Benavente y Martínez, the Nobel Prizing winning Spanish writer and playwright, born in Madrid, Spain. Martinez wrote and staged 172 plays. Martinez was the youngest son of a successful and influential pediatrician, and grew up with a secure place in Madrid’s comfortable upper class society before the devastating Spanish Civil War.  His work reflected the social life that he had enjoyed, with sophisticated comedies of manners, social satires, and realism.  He advanced Spanish theater with ideas and dialogue that were central to his work.

Hispanics Influence in the Battle of Mobile Bay

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”  This signature American phrase originated on August 5, 1864, during the Battle of Mobile Bay, with Latino Admiral David Farragut.  Farragut was the son of a Spanish immigrant who fought for the US in the American Revolutionary War.   The Battle of Mobile Bay was a crucial Union victory in the Civil War.  The port of Mobile on the coast of Alabama was the Confederacy’s last major port open on the Gulf of Mexico.  The bay was dangerously mined with tethered explosives which were then called torpedoes.  Farragut was tied to the mast of his ship, to keep him steady while conducting the battle.  When the mines were spotted, Farragut ordered his men to continue their charge into the bay and ultimately into victory.   (For the record, Farragut’s precise quote was, “Damn the torpedoes!  Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead!  Jouett, full speed!”)

The Dominican Restoration War Begins

On August 16, 1863, the Dominican Restoration War began when Dominican hero Gregorio Luperón launched a daring raid to raise the Dominican flag in the nation’s capital.  The Dominicans had won their freedom 17 years earlier, but were recolonized by the Spanish after internal political and economic turmoil.  The bloody and deadly guerilla war lasted for two years, and independence was finally acknowledged by Spain on March 3, 1865.

National Emigration Convention of Colored People Meets

On August 24, 1854, the National Emigration Convention of Colored People convened in Cleveland, Ohio.  The US in the fourth year of the long, bloody, American Civil War (1861-1865) over slavery.  The leader of the movement, Martin R. Delany, proposed a practical plan for African-Americans in the US to emigrate to the West Indies or Central or South America.  As outlined in the convention’s manifesto, “Political Destiny of the Colored Race,” the leadership felt that life in Caribbean and Central/ South America would give African Americans equal opportunity for “the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty.”  Delaney was one of the first three African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School and the first African-American field officer in the US Army during the Civil War.

 

Bolivian Independence Day

On August 6, 1825, Bolivia declared its independence from Spain, which was finally recognized by the Spanish in 1847.  Bolivia was part of the mighty Incan Empire, conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century.  The country was named for Simon Bolivar, the “George Washington of South America”, who led wars of independence across the continent.  Today, Bolivia is a diverse, multiethnic society of 10 million people.  The primary languages are Spanish, Guarani, Aymara and Quechua; 34 ethnic languages are officially recognized.  Bolivia recognizes a national European style coat of arms and the Wiphala, the flag of the people of the Andes.

Abbe Correa de Serra and His Effect on American History

Relationships between leading personalities in the South and North Americas were close during the late 18th century.  President Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the US and the writer of the Declaration of Independence, was a good friend of Brazilian intellectual Abbe Correa de Serra.  Serra visited Jefferson several times at Jefferson’s home in Monticello, Virginia.  In a letter of August 17, 1813 to a mutual friend, Jefferson described Serra as, “I found him what you had described in every respect; certainly the greatest collection, and best digest of science in books, men, and things that I have ever met with; and with these the most amiable and engaging character.”

Happy Birthday to José Mariano Hernández

August 4, 1793 is the birthday of José Mariano Hernández, an American politician, plantation owner, and soldier.  Hernández was born in Saint Augustine when it was a Spanish holding, and became a loyal US citizen when the territory became part of the US.  He was the first Hispanic American to serve in US Congress and the first delegate from the Florida Territory.  Thirty years passed before another Hispanic was elected to national office.

Happy Birthday to Manuel Oribe

When he was born August 26, 1792, Manuel Oribe was born into the era of South America’s revolutions.  Oribe was a key influence in shaping the formation of his home country of Uruguay.  The independence movement from Spain began in 1811, and Oribe was a strong supporter.  The small country’s history after independence was tumultuous, as it battled the ambitious plans for takeover by its larger, powerful neighbors, Argentina and Brazil.  After independence was finalized, Oribe served as Minister of War and the Navy in 1833 and as President beginning in 1835.  His term was turbulent, and he resigned in 1838.  After an exile in Europe, he made an unsuccessful attempt to retake power in 1855.

Hispanic Communication with Rebels of the North American Colonies

On August 23, 1783, a cordial meeting with held between diplomat of the rebel North American colonies, Michael Carmichael, and the Spanish monarch, King Carlos III.  Carmichael was presented as the Chargé de’Affairs of the United States, an official of a sovereign nation.  Carmichael, mindful of his instructions that the King preferred simple introductions to long winded speeches, “contented myself with expressing to his Majesty my happiness in being the first of my countrymen who had the good fortune to assure him of their desire to cultivate his amity.”  Carlos smiled and answered him graciously, “saying that he hoped I should have frequent occasions of making him the same assurances.”  The meetings continued for several days, for visits of about forty-five minutes, with the King’s family in attendance as well.  Please visit www.OurAmericanHistory.com for more on the contribution of the Spanish and Hispanic Americans to the American Revolutionary War.

French Fleet Aids the US Revolution

In the summer of 1781 – which was so crucial to the victory of the American Revolutionary War — the French war fleet positioned in the Caribbean sailed north to assist the rebels.  On August 30, 1781, to the joy of General George Washington, the fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay.  The French were financed and supported by the Spanish, and defeated the British in the Battle of the Chesapeake Capes. (Please see September 5, 1781.)  The Spanish and French closely cooperated to provide the complete line of French warships for the Battle, with Spanish diplomats agreeing to use the Spanish Navy to protect French interests in the Caribbean.  The French navy also carried the gold and silver hard cash raised by the citizens of Havana, Cuba, that paid for the North American Army’s Siege of Yorktown. Please visit www.OurAmericanHistory.com for more stories about the contribution of the Spanish and Hispanic Americans to the American Revolutionary War.

Happy Birthday to Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme

August 20, 1778 is the birthday of Chilean independence leader, Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme.  O’Higgins fought with José de San Martín to free Chile from Spanish rule.   O’Higgins studied in London as a young man, where he met Venezuelan freedom fighter, Francisco de Miranda.  As were many of the US Founding Fathers, O’Higgins was a Mason.  After achieving independence, O’Higgins ruled as Supreme Director of the new Republic.  But his liberal, democratic principles of abolishing the nobility and questioning the authority of the Church were opposed by conservatives, and he was deposed in 1823.

The Start of the Great Pueblo Revolt

On August 10, 1680, the Native Americans launched the Great Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish colonists.  Missions were destroyed, 21 Franciscans were killed, and 2,000 Spanish colonists were driven out of New Mexico.  The Spanish did not return until 1692.  The revolt was in response the Spanish Governor’s arrest of 47 Pueblo medical doctors, who were accused of practicing sorcery.  Three of the doctors were hanged, and the fourth committed suicide in prison.  (Image from xtimeline.com)

 

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés Sees Florida

On August 28, 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted the verdant, palm covered land that eventually became the US state of Florida.  That date was the feast day of Saint Augustine, and Aviles named the territory after him.  The Spanish built a town and then a fort at the site that still stands. Saint Augustine is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the US, predating Jamestown, Virginia.  On September 8, 2015, the city will celebrate its 450th anniversary.

Piedras Negras comes into Power in Maya

On August 22, 731, a Mayan ruler in the Late Classic Mayan empire came to power in Piedras Negras, and his ascent was immortalized in stone.  This stone sculpture, called a stela, shows the ruler at the top of  a scaffold framed by a skyband with a celestial bird.  A dead sacrificial victim lays across an altar at the bottom register.  For a better view of this complex image, please visit the digital collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI).