Highlighting Prominent Hispanic Figures in Education for National Hispanic Heritage Month — Saga Education

September 14, 2021

As this month starts the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (observed from September 15 to October 15), Saga wants to shine the light on some of the most outstanding educational figures who are descendants of Spanish-speaking populations.

Sylvia Mendez

Ms. Mendez was a civil rights activist who played an important role in the Mendez v. Westminster case. This landmark desegregation case of 1946 paved the way for integration and the American civil rights movement.

Jaime Escalante

An excellent educator, Mr. Escalante taught AP calculus at a largely Hispanic, low-income Garfield High School in east Los Angeles. In 1982 after his entire class passed the AP exam, they were accused of cheating. Mr. Escalante then encouraged his students to retake the test, and all 12 passed it again.

He was hailed as a hero with the Washington Post naming him “the most famous and influential American public-school teacher of his generation.” Because of this accomplishment and notoriety, his story was the subject of the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver. It depicted how he transformed one of the lowest-performing schools in the country to one of the most notable.

Lauro Cavazos

Former US Secretary of Education Lauro Cavazos was the first Hispanic person to hold a cabinet position. During his tenure, he encouraged Hispanic youth to stay in school as at the time, they had a 37% dropout rate. He was a champion of learning and using it as a stepping stone to be successful.

Although he was only in the position for a short time (from 1988 to 1990), Cavazos became more well-respected as an educator. His leadership in the US government opened doors for others of Hispanic descent, including current Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona who is Puerto Rican.

Gloria Anzaldúa

Feminist Theorist and Author Gloria Anzaldúa paved the way for a more intersectional type of feminism, especially one that is inclusive of Chicana women. Not only are her essays considered foundational texts in Latinx philosophy, but her theories are notable as well. She developed suppositions about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders.

When it came to education, Anzaldúa worked as a preschool and special education teacher. She also enjoyed sharing her thoughts on how language and identity are connected.

Arnulfo Trejo

A writer and Professor of Library Science at the University of Arizona, Arnulfo Trejo was a leader in the movement to increase library collections of Latino literature and Spanish-language materials in the United States.  He was one of only five librarians of Spanish-speaking descendants in the nation. Because of this, he was a champion of training more Hispanic people to be professional librarians. He even formed two organizations, REFORMA and Graduate Library Institute for Spanish-speaking Americans (GLISSA) to accomplish this.

The legacies of these great people will live on through their students and everyone they have touched inside and out of academia. Saga is honored to celebrate them.