On the U.S. calendar, October 10th was when Columbus Day was observed, but October 12th is the traditional Columbus Day date. That's its official designation, but the date is also observed as Indigenous Peoples Day or Día de la Raza. The latter celebrates the Latin American cultures that trace their origins to the meeting of indigenous Americans and people of African and European descent.
At the intersections of these diverse world cultures, the arts flourish, including the lively art of writing. These are only a few of the great women who found, and continue to find, writing inspiration from their Latina heritage. They work in diverse forms, from political speeches to medical and psychological literature to plays and poetry.
1. Lola Rodriguez de Tió - a native of San Germán, Puerto Rico, de Tió was a poet whose first volume of poetry was published in 1876. Earlier, she wrote the song lyrics "La Borinqueña," which would become the lyrics of the Puerto Rican national anthem. In addition to writing three books of poetry, she was an anti-colonial and feminist activist.
2. Sara Estela Ramírez - the Mexican-born activist fought on behalf of the rights of Mexican-Americans in Texas and for the labor and feminist movements. Writing was an essential part of her activism. She published a daily Spanish-language newspaper, Aurora, and wrote speeches, poems, stories and a play.
3. Maria Latigo Hernandez - Hernandez was another early civil rights leader in Texas. Unlike Ramírez, whose background was in teaching, Hernandez started out as a midwife. She advocated for bilingual education (still a good idea, btw. Canada's bilingual, and it never hurts them, right?) In addition to her 1945 book on social justice principles, she also produced radio and television shows in Spanish.
4. María Irene Fornés - Born in Havana, Fornés originally wanted to become a painter. In the 1960s, her roommate was the critic Susan Sontag. Helping Sontag overcome a period of writer's block, Fornés discovered her own interest in the written word and became a playwright. She has won nine Obies for her plays in Spanish and English, and went on to co-found the New York Theatre Strategy, which helps other playwrights get their work produced.
5. Nicholasa Mohr - A New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Mohr studied the great Mexican painters, including Frida Kahlo, in Mexico City and returned to New York, where she was a well-received painter. She turned to writing fiction in the 1970s, and has written and illustrated numerous books for children and young adults.
6. Martha Cotera - Following in the footsteps of Rodriguez de Tió and Ramírez, librarian/educator/activist/historian Cotera was born in Chihuahua and moved to Texas with her family when she was 8. You can find her today in Austin. She has written numerous essays and educational resources, including Doña Doormat No Está Aqui, an assertiveness guide for Latinas.
7. Gloria Anzaldúa - A Texas-born poet, author, activist and feminist, Anzaldúa worked for Mexican-American and GLBTQ civil rights. Her writings often interwove prose and poetry, spirituality and art, and were steeped in Native American legends. In the 1980s, she edited two anthologies of writings by feminist women of color. She passed away in 2004.
8. Clarissa Pinkola Estés - She was born in Mexico, adopted by a Hungarian-American couple and raised in Michigan. She later reconnected with her natural parents. Dr. Estés is trained in ethno-clinical psychology and was influenced by Carl Jung. Her most widely known work is Women Who Run with the Wolves, which applies her cross-cultural psychological theories to women's lives. She has also written poetry, and you can connect with her on Facebook.
9. Alisa Lifshitz - Dr. Lifshitz is a physician of Mexican-Jewish descent. She was raised in Mexico City, but came to the U.S. to finish medical school. Known to many through her call-in radio show and from Univision as La Doctora Aliza, she's an AIDS educator, the medical editor of the Spanish-language magazine Mas and the editor-in-chief of Hispanic Physician. She launched the website http://www.vidaysalud.com/ and wrote Healthy Baby, Health Mother, the first bilingual pregnancy guide.
10. Sandra Cisneros - She was born in Chicago to a Mexican-American family that moved back and forth between the two countries frequently. Her first book, 1984's The House on Mango Street, was widely acclaimed. In addition to writing poetry and short stories, she teaches at the university level. She recently had a school in Los Angeles named after her.
FYI: I myself can claim no Hispanic heritage, but have Hispanic members of my extended family, including Mexican-American cousins.
Photos portray Mexican arts. Photo credits: Tomas Castelazo, Wolfgang Sauber, Patti Haskins