American arts rich with Hispanic heritage

Hispanic writers, painters, actors, singers, filmmakers and fashion designers are prominent in the U.S. arts scene. These eight greats have drawn on their Latin American roots as well as the complexity and richness of their American experience to shape the artistic landscape.

Christina Aguilera (Staten Island, New York)

Singer Christina Aguilera performing. (© AP Images)
The daughter of an Ecuadoran immigrant, singer Christina Aguilera has a powerful voice that has earned her five Grammy Awards and a Latin Grammy. She first appeared on national television in 1990 as a contestant on the Star Search program and went on to the television series The New Mickey Mouse Club. She became a singing sensation with the release of her debut album, Christina Aguilera, in 1999. Subsequent albums have earned worldwide success, and Aguilera has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

Julia Alvarez (New York City)

President Obama greets writer Julia Alvarez. (© AP Images)

The writings of Julia Alvarez are filled with her vivid memories of childhood in the Dominican Republic and her adjustment to life in New York City. Alvarez first made her mark as a poet but is best known for her novels, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their AccentsIn the Time of the Butterflies and Before We Were Free. In 2013, President Obama awarded her a National Medal of the Arts for her “extraordinary storytelling,” and she is one of the most critically and commercially successful Latina writers of her time. Alvarez is the current writer-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Narciso Rodriguez (Newark, New Jersey)

Narciso Rodriguez, left, with Michelle Obama in 2014. (© AP Images)
The son of Cuban immigrants, Narciso Rodriguez has garnered worldwide fame as a fashion designer. After graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York, he worked at Anne Klein, Calvin Klein and Cerruti before launching his own label. He won fame in 1996 for designing Carolyn Bessette’s dress for her wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr. Rodriguez has also designed for U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. He was named Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2002 and 2003 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Benicio del Toro (Santurce, Puerto Rico)

Benicio del Toro (© AP Images)

Benicio del Toro, an Academy Award–winning actor and a film producer, moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 13. He is best known for roles in such films as The Usual SuspectsBasquiatFear and Loathing in Las VegasTrafficSnatch21 GramsSin City and Che. In 2001, he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in Traffic; his other honors include a Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award. His recent films include Guardians of the Galaxy and the forthcoming The Little Prince.

Jessica Alba (Pomona, California)

Jessica Alba (© AP Images)
Film and television actress Jessica Alba began appearing on screen at age 13 and rose to prominence as the lead actress in the science fiction television series Dark Angel. Of Mexican, Danish and French Canadian descent, she has starred in such films as HoneySin CityFantastic FourInto the BlueFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Eye. Alba has worked with several charities, including Habitat for Humanity, The Rescue Train, Kids Wish Network and Love Our Children USA.

Frank Romero (Los Angeles)

Frank Romero (© AP Images)
Frank Romero is a Mexican-American muralist. For more than 40 years, his murals, publications and exhibitions have promoted the ideals of La Raza, a nonprofit group that works to enhance opportunities for Hispanics. In 1974, as a member of the “Los Four” Chicano art collective, Romero helped to bring the country’s first show of Chicano art to a major art institution. Since then, he has completed more than 15 murals throughout Los Angeles and has shown extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Junot Diaz (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

Junot Diaz (© AP Images)
Junot Diaz came to the United States at age 6 and grew up in New Jersey. In 2008, his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Several years earlier, he published Drown, a collection of short stories, and in 2012, he published another collection, This is How You Lose Her. Diaz now teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a founding member of the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, which organizes writing workshops for writers of color.

Jennifer Lopez (New York City)

Jennifer Lopez (© AP Images)

Jennifer Lopez — an actress, singer, record producer, dancer, fashion designer and television producer of Puerto Rican descent — is arguably the best-known Latina entertainer in the United States. Lopez advocates for human rights and childhood vaccinations, and is an avid supporter of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15–October 15, the U.S. honors the culture, traditions and extraordinary contributions of Americans who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.