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Collage of Hispanic Culture

America’s history is a kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities, and this vibrantly beautiful group of colors and shapes makes up the accomplished country we live in today. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re taking a look at the inspirational stories of Hispanic-Americans that forever changed this country.

David Barkley, 1899-1918

Barkley was the first Hispanic American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was born in Laredo, TX and served as an enlisted private in the U.S. Army during World War I. During the war, he bravely swam the icy waters of France’s Meuse River to spy on German forces. He drowned on his return swim and was honored posthumously with the Medal of Honor.

Vice Admiral Horacio Rivero, 1910-2000

Puerto-Rico born Rivero was a key player in calming tensions in the “Cuban Missile Crisis” of 1962, an event that easily could have erupted in nuclear war. His naval fleet blockaded Soviet ships from entering Cuba and effectively kept the Cold War from escalating. Fluent in Spanish, Rivero also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain during the Nixon administration.

Luis Walter Alvarez, 1911-1988

Born in 1911 San Francisco, CA, Luis Walter Alvarez helped design a ground-controlled radar system for aircraft landings. His work was so influential in the field of aviation that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968. His son then later developed the meteorite theory of dinosaur extinction in 1978.

Sonia Sotomayor, 1954-present

Born in The Bronx, NY, Sotomayor is the first Latina justice to sit on the United States Supreme Court. Raised by a widowed mother in a housing project in The Bronx, she far surpassed everyone’s expectations. She graduated with top honors from Princeton, received her law degree from Yale, and currently serves on the Supreme Court.

Ellen Ochoa, 1958-present

Ochoa was the first Latina astronaut to go into space when she boarded the Discovery space shuttle in 1993.  Since then, she has continued to make history by becoming the first Hispanic, and second female director, of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She has contributed three different patented inventions to the field of spacecraft technology and continues to inspire Latinas around the United States.