Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raúl Colón
It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month … do you know where your heroes are? Look no further than this thoughtful compilation, arranged by year of birth, presented in four pages per hero that opens with a full-color portrait by award-winning artist Raúl Colón with three pages of biography composed by California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. Portraits is inspiring proof that Hispanic heroes have been a vital part of American history even before the birth of this nation, and continue their heroic achievements today.
“A ‘hero,’ un héroe, was rarely in my vocabulary growing up as an only child of two tireless and kind California farmworkers,” writes Herrera in his introduction. “Are the stories about our Latino and Latina heroes, those who came or were born here in the United States, in our libraries? Most of the books had to be written.” And still need to be written. “In a land of immigrants, it is an irony that Latino lives have been largely ignored … their pioneering roles often have been overshadowed and their identities besmirched by terms such as ‘alien’ and ‘illegal.'” Such labels makes this title that much more necessary.
Bernardo de Gálvez – for whom Galveston, Texas is named – proved to be a brilliant strategist in the American Revolution and helped draft the Treaty of Paris. David Glasgow Farragut was the U.S. Navy’s first admiral, a rank created just for him after his unparalleled Civil War victories. Adelina Otero-Warren helped women get the vote in her native New Mexico in 1920, then ran for Congress in 1922. Ignacio E. Lozano founded a publishing empire, starting with the Spanish-language dailies, La Prensa in San Antonio 1915, and La Opinión in Los Angeles in 1926.
Julia de Burgos published her poetry starting in the 1930s. Desi Arnaz was a movie star by the 1940s, and created an entertainment empire in the 1950s and ’60s with his wife, Lucille Ball. César Estrada Chávez spent his life helping California’s farmworkers get fair wages and better working conditions. Dolores Huerta worked right alongside, leading the chant for “¡Si, se puede!” Jaime Alfonso Escalante made the impossible possible, encouraging the least likely students to Stand and Deliver, and yes they did! Rita Moreno is the only woman entertainer able to say she’s taken Oscar, Tony, Grammy, and two Emmys home. Joan Baez is still singing. Sonia Sotomayor remains the first and only Latina Supreme Court Judge.
In addition to the 19 heroic stories, Herrera also includes a penultimate chapter on “Hero Street U.S.A.” in Silvis, Illinois, named so in May 1967. Eight American soldiers of Mexican descent called the street ‘home’ before losing their lives in World War II and the Korean conflict. More than 110 men and women from that street would eventually serve their country.
The final installment belongs to another fallen hero, Victoria Soto, one of the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Herrera offers a sestina for the “Beloved Teacher,” which ends with “strength.”
Strength is certainly prevalent throughout this worthy, timely title. “May you say hero in many languages,” Herrera encourages. “May you become one.” Indeed, regardless of your background, here are many to lead the way …
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult