Latinos are Nation Shapers and Culture Makers

Latinos and Latinas have shaped the United States and continue to do so at a national and local level by fighting for justice, supporting fair labor practices, education access, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, and LGBT rights, among other issues. Latino and Latina groundbreaking thinkers, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, and public servants invigorate U.S. culture and democracy.

Latino and Latina business owners, activists, artists, and many others have worked together to make a difference in their communities. Latinos and Latinas continue to work together and with others to create a more equitable society for all. Click on the button below to learn more about the Shaping the Nation exhibit case in ¡Presente! 

Shaping the Nation Exhibit Case

Tree of Life in 3D

Verónica Castillo (b. 1967) is an award-winning ceramicist. Castillo created this Tree of Life (El Árbol de la Vida in Spanish) for the National Museum of the American Latino’s debut exhibition, ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States. This Tree of Life, titled Raíces, historia y justicia latinas (Latino Roots, History, and Justice) visualizes themes from ¡Presente!

Explore the Tree of Life!


In the year 2020 around December, I decided to run as an Assembly Delegate for 8064, which is a district in California in my local area, because I wanted to create more accessibility to my community and make sure that my community had a voice in the issues that we were already talking about... I have to make sure I remember because those are the values that I grew up with. What an Assembly Delegate looks like. It looks like me, it looks like other people too. It looks like an Indigenous person like me, who has been always striving to fight, to not survive but to thrive instead. I don't want to survive, I want to thrive in my own sense.       

   Brandon Molina, Assembly Delegate 

Ellen Ochoa First Latina In Space

In 1993 Dr. Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina to go to space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. As a physicist and astronaut, she has inspired many to follow in her footsteps. 


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Ellen Ochoa. Somos , 2021. National Museum of the American Latino
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Stories from the Past

There have been countless Latina and Latino changemakers over the course of U.S. history. Explore the stories of two Latino boundary breakers who influenced healthcare and the U.S. military.  

Illustration of Helen Rodríguez-Trías wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope.
Helen Rodríguez-Trías

Latinas and Latinos have long fought for civil rights. Puerto Rican physician Helen Rodríguez-Trías (1929–2001) was one of them. A reproductive rights and public health advocate, she worked to increase access to quality healthcare for women and children. She also fought to abolish forced sterilization. She was the first Latina to serve as president of the American Public Health Association. In 2001, she received a Presidential Citizen’s Medal for her work in public health and AIDS advocacy. 

Digital Artwork by Rafael López, 2021.
Illustration of Esteban Hotesse wearing a World War II  khaki uniform.
Esteban Hotesse

Since the American Revolution, Latinas and Latinos have served in the U.S. military. Some who served were motivated by patriotism. Others saw the military as a pathway to economic and educational opportunities. Some believed their service could advance Latino civil rights. Latino veterans, such as  Esteban Hotesse (1919–1945), and current military personnel continue to shape the U.S.  Born in the Dominican Republic, Hotesse enlisted in the army during World War II. Soon after, he became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-Black group of military pilots in the U.S. Armed Forces. He was among a group of Airmen arrested for an act of disobedience following their attempt to integrate an all-White officers’ club. The incident later became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny.

Digital Artwork by Rafael López, 2021. 

Shaping the Nation through Art: Judy Baca

Latina and Latino artists such as Judy Baca have created a legacy of politically engaged art such as murals, photography, posters, music, and theater. For Mexican American artist Judy Baca, public art such as murals is a tool for empowering communities.  Explore Judy Baca’s paint-splattered boots and learn more about her art.   

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