10 Great Mexican Americans You Probably Don’t Know

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We’ve heard of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in our history classes and of course, on César Chávez Day. But there are other Mexican Americans you may not have heard of. Here’s a list of Mexican-Americans that have influenced (or are currently influencing) our culture, film, politics, science, sports and literature.

1. Selena Quintanilla Pérez, (b. April 16, 1971— March 31, 1995)

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Image Source: Remezcla

Hailing from Corpus Christi, TX. Selena was a singer, actress and fashion designer. At an age when most children are out playing, she had already embarked on a career. She recorded her first album with her family in 1984 and dominated the Tejano music genre at a time when it was still considered a mostly male genre.

Selena opened her two fashion boutiques in 1994 and sold clothes based on her own designs. She was also known to have her own sense of fashion style and became one of the most successful American artists in the mid-90s. Sadly, she lost her life on March 31, 1995, but her legacy continues.

2. Pío de Jesus Pico (b. May 5, 1801September 11, 1894)

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Image Source: Tiki Toki

Pío Pico governed Alta California before Mexico lost part of its territory to the USA in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. He owned part of what is now Whittier, California, and his former home is now preserved as a state park. As governor, he secularized the state of California and then became a wealthy business owner after he was granted US citizenship. One of his former businesses, Pico House (Casa de Pico) is now preserved in Los Angeles’ Olvera Street.

3. Robert Rodriguez (b. June 20, 1968)

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Image Source: Latin Post

Robert Rodriguez is a successful director from San Antonio, TX. His first film, El Mariachi made $2 million even though it was filmed with a budget of $7,000. Since then, he has directed the Spy Kids franchise and the Sin City film adaptations.

Never afraid of taking risks, he has refused to move to Hollywood and celebrates his Texan/Mexican-American heritage in his work. He’s known as theone man film crewand has consistently surprised audiences, fans, and folks in the film industry with his creative solution to creative problems.

4. Julio Salgado (b. September 1, 1983)

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Image Source: Huffington Post

Salgado is an undocumented artist and activist. He began his career by drawing comics of his experience as an undocumented student, and now makes posters about various issues affecting communities of color, in support of gay rights, and has produced videos with the Dreamers Adrift. He is now based in Oakland, CA and works with CultureStrike empowering artists to use their experiences to create art that affects social change.

5. Sixto Díaz Rodríguez (b. July 10, 1942)

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Image Source: Under the Radar

 Sixto Rodríguez is based in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood. He recorded two little-sold albums in the 1970s and toured Australia twice. Without his knowledge, his music made it to South Africa where it inspired others to stand up to apartheid. Loyal South African fans thought he was dead until they decided to track him down, and this story is captured in the Oscar-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man.

6. Julián and Joaquín Castro (b. September 16, 1941)

Keynote speaker Castro addresses first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte
 Image Source: Darkroom

Brothers Julían and Joaquín Castro are proof that public service runs in the family. The brothers are third generation Mexicans from San Antonio, TX. Julían Castro served as Mayor of San Antonio for three terms until he accepted a post as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Joaquín Castro is a U.S. Representative of Texas’ 20th congressional district. Their mother, María Castro was an activist who tried, but failed, to become San Antonio’s Mayor in 1971.

7. Ellen Ochoa (b. May 10, 1958)

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 Image Source: Youtube

Ellen Ochoa was the first Mexican-American woman in space. She flew aboard the Discovery in 1993, and was the first woman of Latin American descent to go up to space. She’s now logged 1,000 hours in space and became the first Latina to direct NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

8. Carlos Bocanegra (b. May 25, 1979)

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Image Source: SBI soccer

Carlos Bocanegra was captain of the U.S. National soccer team for six years and played for the United States in the 2006, 2010, 2014 World Cup. Though the national team didn’t reach beyond the quarter finals, their improved games helped increase the sport in the country. He is now retired and is coaching Atlanta United FC, who will enter Major League Soccer in 2017.

9. Sandra Cisneros (b. December 20, 1954)

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 Image Source:  SF Gate

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is considered a classic and is required reading for many high school students. She is known for her poetic writing style and cultural critiques. She formed the Macondo Foundation to help artists and writers create work that builds community and support social change in a non-violent way.

10. Gustavo Arellano (b. February 3, 1979)

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Image Source: Kill the photographer

Arellano is an editor of OC Weekly and he is known for his award-winning column ¡Ask A Mexican! In 2008, his columns were compiled into a book, and he published two other books about Mexican-American culture: Orange County: A Personal History and Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.


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