A Latinx Guide to Celebrating Women’s History Month!

April 1, 2021

Alt Text

Written by: Gabriela Perez Jordan, Cisneros Class of 2023

March is Women’s History Month, o como diría mi mamá, “el mes de la mujer!” This is a time we can all come together to celebrate the important contributions women have made to our country. Below is a rundown of what Women’s History Month is and how we can celebrate Latinx women’s contributions, in particular.

What exactly is Women’s History Month and when did it begin?

Good question! Women’s History Month is a celebration of all of the powerful and fierce women who have played a role in the shaping of our nation and who have paved the way for women today. During Women’s History Month, we commemorate women’s often overlooked contributions in history, culture, society, art, science, mathematics, literature, sports, and so much more!

Women’s History Month began as a local event in Sonoma, California school districts in 1978. Schools in the area gave presentations on women’s contributions; organized a “Real Woman” essay competition, which gave students a chance to write about women in their lives who they respected and admired; and even hosted a parade in downtown Santa Rosa. As the celebration grew, the National Women’s History Project led a group of activists to lobby for national recognition of the celebration. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter made the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History week, which Congress reauthorized for the next six years. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to declare the whole month of March as Women’s History Month. Every year, the president of the United States proclaims March as Women’s History Month, while the National Women’s History Alliance selects and reveals the yearly theme. This year the theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.”

But why the month of March, specifically?

I asked myself the same thing! Well, in 1978 when the Sonoma, California school districts were aiming to address the lack of women’s representation in their schools’ curriculum, they chose the week of March 8th to begin their Women’s History Week Celebration because International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8th since 1911. The Sonoma School District thought this would be the best time to incorporate the much needed celebration.

Why is it important to commemorate?

Knowing the past opens the door to the future, and it’s important to acknowledge the presence of women throughout history in order for women today to draw strength and inspiration to continue those movements. Think of this as an opportunity to celebrate the significant milestones in the advancement of women’s rights and women’s equality, while laying out what work still needs to be done.

How can I celebrate and honor Latinx women during WHM?

There are many ways you can do this! Here are some ideas:

Get involved with organizations that support women, especially women of color. Black Women’s Health Imperative and MANA, a national Latina organization, are a couple of my favorites and are always sending out ways to get involved with their work.

Explore the history of women’s rights and how Latinas have fought to advance democracy in this country. You might be surprised at what you might learn. Here is a cool website to start with in order to learn more about the history of Latinas in the United States.

Recognize some of the issues women of color still face today and look to support women-owned businesses. Here is a list of some really cool ones. Looking for a delicious meal? Need a new book to read or want some new jewelry? See if you can find it at a woman-owned business!

Honor and celebrate women through your social media platforms. Whether it’s through Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media platform, amplify women’s voices. Carve out space to lift up and honor their hard work.

Who will you be celebrating this month?

Glad you asked!

1. Felicitas Mendez

A Puerto Rican civil rights pioneer, who fought for her Latinx children to be allowed in an all-white school during the 1940s. After her daughter, Sylvia Mendez, was turned away for not being as light-skinned as her cousins, Felicitas filed a lawsuit with her husband against the school for segregating children. In 1946, with the assistance of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, they won the lawsuit allowing the Mendez children to attend an all-white school, as well as end de jure segregation in California. The Mendez v, Westminster case helped plant the seeds for the Brown v. Board of Educationlawsuit eight years later.

2. Virginia “Ginny” Montes

A women’s rights advocate and immigrant from Honduras, Montes became the first Latina to serve as a national officer for the National Organization for Women (NOW). Through her work with NOW, she fought for civil rights in the South and pushed for the redrawing of districts so that people of color could be more adequately represented. She also led leadership training for organizations such as the ACLU, the NAACP, the Women’s Political Caucus, and many more!

3. Rita Moreno

Is a singer, dancer, actress, and Broadway star from Humacao, Puerto Rico. She is credited for breaking boundaries for Latinx women in the entertainment industry and is also the first, and only, Latina to earn all four of the most prestigious and major American entertainment awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony Award. She called out the show businessfor only letting Latina actresses play stereotypical roles with thick accents, and has consistently sought out roles that shattered those stereotypes. Through the stories she portrays she seeks to capture the audience and make them feel as if they were also a part of her story.

4. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Is a woman of many firsts! She Is the first Latina to serve in the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, and the first Latina to serve in the U.S. House of Representative. This pioneering Cuban-American was the first woman to ever Chair a regular standing committee in the House. Additionally, she became the first Republican to support marriage equality in 2012. Some of her most striking work as a Representative include drafting legislation and lobbying for the Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and cosponsoring the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

5. Ilia Calderón

Is the first Afro-Latina to co-anchor an evening news show. She is a Colombian-born Emmy award-winning journalist who has used her voice and platform to speak up against racism and discrimination. She recently published a memoir titled “My Time to Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race” about following her dreams, overcoming prejudice and embracing her identity. Through her work, she has brought to light many of the issues people of color still face today and has broken barriers in Spanish-language TV in the United States.

So many spectacular Latinx women right?! Let’s celebrate them together!

Every week throughout the month of March, join me in looking up a specific woman to honor. Research her journey, how she contributed and impacted where you are today, and honor her by sharing her story with those around you. Whether it is through a story on Instagram, a post on Twitter, or a conversation with a friend, you can participate in Women’s History Month too!

Gabriela Perez Jordan is a second-year Cisneros Scholar in the GW Columbian College of Arts & Sciences. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies with a double minor in Marketing and Journalism. She is originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, but now calls New Orleans home. Gabriela’s views are her own and not necessarily reflective of the Cisneros Institute.