In many ways, 2018 was a disappointing and devastating year. We witnessed the rights of many rolled back or threatened. Under Donald Trump, we saw little progress in the future wellbeing of the planet. And we continued to feel frustration that people of color don’t have ownership over their own stories. But despite the many (many) times we felt despair in 2018, we also felt hope because of those who worked to uplift our communities. They focused on intersectional activism. They started new businesses that promoted our culture. They gave a voice to those often disregarded. And they found new ways to make us proud.
Given all the inspiring work we saw this year, we have rounded up a list of 30 Latinxs who made an impact in their communities. Meet them below.
Aura Bogado has dedicated her career to telling the stories of marginalized communities, and 2018 was no different. Joining Reveal in February, Bogado shed light on the inhumane treatment immigrants face, including breaking the news of how a shelter housing undocumented children had a history of abuse allegations. On Twitter, she advocates for more diverse newsrooms, pointing to the nuances that many covering immigration issues tend to miss.
As a woman of Garifuna descent, Janel Martinez is in a position to tell stories about this Afro Indigenous community in a unique way. And this year, the journalist used her skills to document everything from how food plays a role for New York-based Garinagu to what it means to be Garifuna. And though her work focuses a lot on a group often overlooked, she also uses her writing to uplift not only Afro-Latinxs but all Black people across the Diaspora. For The Root, she broke down the legacy of Arturo Schomburg – a figure whose Latinx identity is often written out of history – ahead of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Editor’s Note: Janel Martinez has freelanced for Remezcla.
Joining Latino USA in late 2017, Sayre Quevedo has made a splash in the last year with his Central America-focused stories, including reporting on Temporary Protected Status and the crisis in Nicaragua. But perhaps one of his most impactful stories of this year was his most personal. In a heart-wrenching and reflective episode titled Los Quevedos, he invites us to learn about his family history, one he wasn’t quite acquainted with himself.
Dani Marrero Hi
The Trump Administration is not the first to criminalize undocumented immigrants, but his outright hostility to this community has made many more fearful. As the administration perpetrates unethical behavior at the border, it’s important that the journalists on the ground have an intimate knowledge on this topic. Dani Marrero Hi, a reporter based in the Rio Grande Valley, is the editor-in-chief of Neta, which has teamed up with organizations to give immigrants a platform. Back in April, Neta and Pueblos Sin Fronteras put cameras in the hands of Central American immigrants heading north in a caravan to help them counter misinformation.
Natasha S. Alford
As the Deputy Editor of The Grio, Natasha S. Alford is part of an editorial team that covers news that is important to African Americans. On The Grio, she has covered a wealth of topics, such as mental health stigma, the midterm elections, Black women in the workplace, and criminal justice reform. But her work doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the Harvard grad wrote an op-ed on The New York Timesabout how Afro-Latina women have created a community online after being overlooked for so long by the media. The personal story resonated with many and ended up circulating online. Similar to that story, Natasha also opened up about her own experiences with lupus in a Medium post. Through her body of work, Natasha has thoughtfully tapped into topics that need more visibility.
Saraciea Fennell, a publicist in the publishing industry, successfully created a book festival in the Bronx, which does not have any bookstores. Fennell, who is of Garifuna descent, used the connections she’s forged throughout her career to give the Bronx a well-rounded festival (which went on in the rain, no less) that included several talks and promoted literacy by giving away books to attendees.
Editor’s Note: Saraciea Fennel has freelanced for Remezcla.
For years, Jillian Mercado has made a splash in the fashion industry. As a disabled model, she’s one of a few representing this community, and as such, she has used her platform to advocate for other disabled people. This led to a feature on Teen Vogue, where she and two other disabled women, spoke about her experiences in the fashion industry. “There wasn’t anyone who looked like me in any magazines or mainstream media, TV, or anything,” she told Teen Vogue. “It excluded me from something that I was very passionate about. It was definitely confusing because I knew my worth in the world. I knew that there’s [so many] people out there like me, but we are never included in any conversations.”
Ignacio G (Hutiá Xeiti) Rivera is a BLatinx Indígena activist. They’re the founders of Poly Patao Productions, which provides sex-positive workshops, parties, and plays for those who are queer, transgender, gender-queer, multi-gender, and gender non-conforming. They also started the Heal Project, which is focused on ending child sexual abuse.
Ale Pablos first became an activist as a teenager. Earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Ale, who is undocumented and outspoken about the need for change in this country. It took months of organizing for her to be freed. And just a week ago, a federal judge in Tucson, Arizona, ordered her deportation. But Ale is responding the way she always has: She’s fighting for herself and her communities.
From a young age, 18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has raised awareness about climate change. He’s an important voice in the movement, and when Senator Bernie Sanders had a climate change town hall, Xiuhtezcatl was present. The activist is the youth director at Earth Guardians, and he and more young people are suing the government for failing to sufficiently address climate change. This year, Xiuhtezcatl released his first full-length hip hop album, but he also continued advocating for the environment.
Emma González was thrust into the spotlight after a gunman, a former student, killed 17 at her school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Three days after the traumatic day, Emma delivered a powerful speech calling for gun control and criticizing politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association. Since then, she and her classmates have become the faces of the gun control movement, and they have made it clear that their fight is intersectional.
As the co-founder of United We Dream, Cristina Jiménez has long advocated for the immigrant community. Arriving from Ecuador at the age of 13, she and her family lived in the shadows. But in 2008, she co-founded United We Dream, and she has used this platform to fight for others ever since. Under Trump, she remains dedicated to raising her voice. This year alone, United We Dream launched Summer of Dreams – a program to train other young people how to become activists and organizers – lobbied Congress, and protested against family separations at the border. Time named Cristina one of its 100 Most Influential People of 2018.
Sandra Martinez, aka Bibi, has built a business that serves as a uniform for the social justice minded. As such, her business is also about raising awareness about important topics. For example, this year, Bibi joined Hydro Punk, a grass roots collective, in trying to save the Bronx Social Center, a community space that offers important resources in the borough. So while you’ll see plenty of fly people wearing her popular “My abuela is doing brujeria on you” merch, you’ll also see someone who considers uplifting her community central to her business.
Danielle Alvarez is the founder of The Bonita Project, a New York-based public relations agency that focuses on elevating the stories of brands, many of which are Latinx owned. The support she received from her own network inspired her to branch out on her own. “A lot of women encouraged me that I can do it – influencers, fellow publicists, editors, and that meant the world to me,” she told HipLatina. “I also felt like there wasn’t enough Latina publicists in the industry. The typical PR girl carries a certain image, and I want to contribute to change that.” Currently, The Bonita Project represents Farsali and Clinique.
Annie Segarra is a queer Latinx with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and her shop is all about representing these different and interesecting identities. Annie’s shop sells tees that read “The Future Is Accessible,” “Nobody Knows I Have EDS,” and “Queer and Disabled.” Annie, who posts regularly on social media, encouraged her followers to help buy shirts for members of the disabled community.
Jocelyn de Leon
Los Angeles-based Jocelyn de Leon started the Hire Women Agency taps the audiences that companies tend to overlook. “The biggest challenge has been working towards changing the perception of how Latinx contribute to this country,” she told Fast Company. “In addition to that, educating companies on our buying power and why they should pay more attention to us has also been difficult. We’re extremely loyal consumers and I feel it shows in the way our money is spent. The lack of representation in my industry has been my greatest motivation.” On top of leading the small Hire Women team, which is working to diversify their industry, Jocelyn also sells “Hire Women” and “Support Your Homegirl” merch.
Doris Muñoz is founder of mija mgmt, a music management company based in Los Angeles, which represents Cuco, August Eve, Welfair, Jasper Bones, and Hunnah. Beside running her successful business, Doris is also – with the help of the artists she works with – raising money and awareness for the undocumented community. This year, she organized Solidarity for Sanctuary – concert series to raise money for undocumented immigrants. The series gained traction and outlets like Univision and Telemundo covered it.
About two years ago, Brittany Chavez launched ShopLatinx, a database of Latino businesses. This year has been all about growing the business – not only by making ShopLatinx more useful for users – but also by positioning the brand for more visibility within the tech world. Brittany focused on getting her brand in the same spaces as tech startups in 2018. Along the way, she has passed on these lessons to her followers, in hopes of helping other aspiring business owners navigate this world.
Yocelyn Riojas‘s art works have served as a reprieve from the hateful immigration rhetoric that filled our timelines this years. Rioja’s bright and colorful pieces centered the Latinx community and attempted to empower them. With works that read “My Dreams Are Not Illegal,” “#SaveTPS,” and “Clean Dream Act Now,” it’s easy to see why people shared them widely online and made them the unofficial posters for demonstrations.
Xiomara Marie Henry – aka DJ Bembona – is one of New York’s most exciting DJs. Throughout her career, she’s worked on bringing more attention to Panamanian artists, who never get the credit they deserve, despite their contributions to reggae en español. “Panama hasn’t gotten that much attention,” she told Remezcla. “There are a lot of Black artists killing it, but they don’t fit the mold of what mainstream market, or the American market, is looking for. They’re not getting the shine they deserve, and it saddens me.” Through her monthly Vibras parties, she’s tried to rectify this.
Martine Gutierrez is a Brooklyn-based performance artist. This year, the trans creative gave us Indigenous Woman, a 146-page work of art that resembled a magazine. The point of the publication is to celebrate Maya heritage, “the navigation of contemporary indigeneity, and the ever-evolving self-image.” The magazine builds a space for people like Martine, who are so often sidelined in the fashion industry.
Breena Nuñez Peralta
Breena Nuñez Peralta is an Afro-Latinx cartoonist of Guatemalan and Salvadoran heritage. She uses her talent to uplift the stories of the isthmus. Her cartoons veer from the personal to political, but at a time when Central American representation is still lacking, they’re all necessary. This year, Breena also teamed up with Lourdes Rivas, a teacher and author who wrote They Call Me Mix, which teaches children about gender-neutral pronouns.
Raul Lopez is the force behind visionary label Luar. With the brand, Lopez has found an outlet to talk about his own experiences in a meaningful way. “Luar is me,” he told The Cut. The self-taught designer, who has stayed true to his roots, has gained the attention of the fashion world. This year, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund named the label one of its 10 finalists.
Adrian Martínez and Paola Vargas Aymat
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico has not historically made it easy for up-and-coming artists to break through. But with a little ingenuity, Adrian Martínez and Paola Vargas Aymat decided to do something about it. This year, the duo launched Hijacked, an exhibition that museum goers could only experience virtually. By using the Layar app, visitors of the museums could use their phones to superimpose critical and thoughtful pieces that brought some fresh ideas into this institution. While it’s still too early to see whether or not their work will have long-lasting effects, one thing’s for sure: Hijacked shook things up on the island.
For some, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came out of nowhere. The 29-year-old unseated Joe crowley, the former fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. Despite raising far less money than him, Alexandria won the election on a progressive platform, calling for tuition-free public colleges, the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Medicare for all. Alexandria made history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And while she has many in her corner, she also has plenty of critics. Each time, she has shown that it won’t deter her from fighting for what’s right.
This year, Amelia Marquez, a trans Mexican-American woman, ran for State House in Billings, Montana. While she didn’t win, she was one of a growing number of candidates who ran on a progressive grassroots campaign. As the Vice Chair of Yellowstone County Democrats, it’s likely that we’ll continue seeing her in this space.
Genny Castillo served as an advisor on Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial bid in Georgia. While her team didn’t win, Genny was part of a historic campaign. In May, Abrams became the first Black woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor in the nation. Her mostly women-led team helped bring her success, and someone like Genny used her background as an asset. “Being able to share my story with people makes it easier for people to understand why this campaign means so much, and so everything that I’m able to provide, and being able to translate and talk to different communities really makes this incredibly amazing for me,” she said back in May. “And I’m happy to be me in this campaign, and this campaign allows me to be that.”
Andrew Gillum didn’t become Florida’s next governor, but he did make an impact, and part of that is due to the work of Phil Jerez, a Dominican-American political director. His strategy included engaging young constituents of color, whom campaigns often ignore.
Democrats have not held a majority in the New York State Senate for nearly a decade, but they turned it around this midterm elections. And with that, we also got Andrea Stewart-Cousins would serve as the majority leader starting on January 1. Stewart-Cousins put together a diverse team, including hiring Alejandra Paulino as the Senate secretary, making her the first Latina to hold the position.
Antonio Delgado, a resident of Rhinebeck, is the first nonwhite representative of New York’s 19th District. The Harvard Law grad and former rapper decided to run after the election of Trump. “When Trump won, he certainly made my wife and I sit down and think about our own individual lives,” Delgado told Chonogram, “and what the next phase of our life ought to look like in light of a dramatic alteration of reality – one that was difficult to process.”
Update, December 27: This post has been updated to accurately state the clients that Danielle Alvarez represents.