Cocktail Chatter will help fill quiet conversation lulls with interesting, intriguing information about Latino contributions to our nation and the world. Think of this feature as CliffNotes of tidbits and stories never told in school - historical nuggets of Latino contributions to Arts & Style, Geography & Language, Military & U.S. Security and Political Primeros. We hope this feature will whet your appetite for learning more about our history and that you will seek additional insight through the internet , books and/or the library. A few of our stories do not involve U.S. Latinos but are mentioned because of their global influence. As RSVP Latino develops we will feature stories on some of our Latino inventors, Nobel Prize winners, writers, politicos, etc.
Alicia Alonso (pictured at right), born in 1920, is a Cuban born Prima Ballerina and choreographer, most famous for her portrayal of Giselle and Carmen. From the age of nineteen she was partially blind due to a detached retina and yet danced to legendary stardom. In 1943, due to an illness by the original performer, she had the opportunity to command the part of Giselle, bringing international fame to the then twenty-one year old dancer. She was a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and later founded Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
In 1962, folk singer Joan Chandos Baez became the first Hispanic Entertainer to grace the cover of TIME magazine. Her father is from Puebla, Mexico.
Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, born 1911, is considered the Mexican Charlie Chaplin due to the popular character he created, Cantinflas. Dressed like a cargador (Mexican porter) he came to symbolize the many poor workers in Mexican slums. By 1940, the comic had achieved status as a national figure and was later cast in the movie version of "Around the World in Eighty Days. The movie won five Oscars, bringing international recognition to his style of "madcap gibberish" often compared to the endless speeches of dictators.
Oscar de la Renta (pictured at left), raised in Santo Domingo, the youngest of seven children and the only son, traveled to Madrid, Spain, at the age of 17 to study art. He wanted to be a painter, and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses to pay for his art studies. His big break came when the U.S. Ambassador to Spain asked him to design a dress for his daughter's debut. A photographic story of the party to which she wore it appeared in Life magazine. Soon after this international exposure, he landed a job at Balenciaga's couture house in Madrid and later for Lanvin. In 1963, he came to New York as the in-house designer at Elizabeth Arden, and in 1965, he began his own business. De la Renta became known for his feminine, romantic, and dramatic evening clothes utilizing elaborate fabrics and embroideries.
Camillo Jose Cela, born in Galicia Spain, won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989 for his post Spanish Civil War works, specifically The Family of Pascual Duarte published in 1942. The war influenced his works including his best known novel La Colmena, The Hive. He later became experimental which led to Cristo versus Arizona which consists of a single sentence and is more than a hundred pages long. He scandalized Spanish society with his Diccionario secreto ("Secret Dictionary"), a dictionary of slang and taboo words. He died in Madrid at the age of 85.
Christy Turlington (pictured at right) is considered the first Hispanic Supermodel. Her mother is from El Salvador.
Diego Rivera, born 1886 as Diego Maria de la Concepcion Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodriguez, is considered one of the founders of authentic Mexican painting who helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance. With his post-cubist flair, his controversial works were commissioned for buildings such as The California School of Fine Arts, The San Francisco Stock Exchange Building, and The National Palace in Mexico. He was an active communist and integrated his political and social views into his works. He is also known as the womanizing husband of Frida Kahlo.
Manolo Blahnik (shoes pictured at left), is an internationally recognized designer, best known as the shoe designer of choice for the ladies of Sex and The City. Raised in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, he was influenced by reading his mother's fashion magazines and was later encouraged by Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland to design shoes. In 1971 Blahnik came to New York after years of studying literature, architecture, and art in Paris and Geneva.
What are the two Texan cities that have Spanish translations meaning "The Pass" and "Body of Christ"? El Paso, Corpus Christi
Bahia de San Antonio was the original name given to the Hudson Bay by the Spanish Explorers.
What is the Spanish translation of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Montana? Land of Colors, Land of Flowers, Land of Snow, and Land of Mountains
The Mississippi River was known as Rio del Espiritu Santo by the Spaniards.
The Chesapeake Bay's original name was Bahia de Santa Maria Madre de Dios given by the Spanish as they explored this famous Eastern United States Bay.
What two popular California cities have Spanish translations meaning City of Angels and Saint Francis? Los Angeles and San Francisco
In 1967 the Spanish government placed a plaque at 242 South Third Street in Philadelphia to commemorate the residence of Juan de Moralles (1715-1780, the first Spanish diplomat to the United States.
What is the original name of Santa Fe, New Mexico? In 1610 the Spanish changed the original name of Santa Fe from Kuapoga or "the place of the shell beads near the water" to Santa Fe, the Royal City of the Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi (Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi).
Lieutenant Commander Everett Alvarez (pictured at right) was the first American to become a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned for almost eight and a half years, leaving him the infamous distinction of being the longest confirmed P.O.W. in our nation's history. He is the grandson of Mexican immigrants and is from Salinas, California.
The Congressional Medal of Honor – America's highest military decoration of valor, has been awarded to forty-three(43) Hispanic Americans. Of the Medals of Honor presented to Hispanics, two were presented to members of the United States Navy, thirteen to members of the United States Marine Corps and twenty-eight to members of the United States Army. Twenty-five Medals of Honor were presented posthumously.
A Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to France Silva for his 1900 actions in Peking China during the Boxer Rebellion.
Joseph de Castro, Philip Bazar and John Ortega were awarded Congressional Medal of Honors for military heroics during the Civil War.
In 1964 Horacio Rivero of Puerto Rico, became the first Hispanic-American to become a four-star Admiral.
David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870) (pictured at left) became the first U.S. Naval Officer to be awarded the rank of admiral. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay - "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" His father Jorge Farragut was a Spanish merchant captain from Minorca, Spain. In the War of 1812, when only 12 years old, he was given command of a prize ship taken by USS Essex and brought her safely to port. He is a Union Hero of the Civil War, capturing New Orleans, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Mobile, and he split the Confederacy in two with his naval victories along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Honorable Gil Coronado (pictured at right), a thirty-three year career officer in the United States Air Force, was the first Hispanic-American to serve as Director of the Selective Service System. He served in the administration of President Bill Clinton.
Loretta Janeta Velasquez was a Cuban-born woman who masqueraded as a male Confederate soldier during the Civil War. She enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, without her soldier-husband's knowledge. She fought at Bull Run, Ball's Bluff and Fort Donelson, but her gender was discovered while in New Orleans and she was discharged. Undeterred, she reenlisted and fought at Shiloh, until unmasked once more. She then became a spy, working in both male and female guises. Her husband died during the war and she remarried three more times; being widowed in each instance. [Special thanks to www.goarmy.com for sharing the story of Loretta Velasquez.]
Elwood R. Quesada pioneered military aviation techniques through the use of radar which was particularly helpful during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge when bad weather hid German targets. He introduced mounted radios on tanks so ground commanders could contact pilots directly. When the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, he went along as a Lieutenant General. [Special thanks to www.goarmy.com for sharing the story of Loretta Velasquez.]
Private Jose P. Martinez was the first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient of World War I for his bravery and heroic efforts in the American invasion of the Aleutian Islands, May 1943. On May 11, 1943, Martinez landed on Red Beach with his unit at Holtz Bay. While being attacked by the Japanese, he twice led his platoon in attacks by jumping into the Japanese trenches and driving back the enemy. During the second attack he was mortally wounded.
Hero Street U.S.A. was once named Second Street and is located in Silva, Illinois as a monument to eight Mexican-American heroes who gave their lives in defense of our nation. The men (Joe Gamez, Peter Masias, Johnny Munos, Tony Pompa, Frank Sandoval, Joseph Sandoval, William Sandoval, and Claro Soliz) grew up together on this small street in a very close knit environment working for the railroad. All of them gave their lives in defense of our nation.
Marine PDC Guy Gabaldon received the Silver Star for his actions performed in Saipan, 1944, when he aided the capture of over 1,000 enemy civilians and soldiers. This Hispanic Marine has the distinction of capturing more enemy soldiers than anyone else in the history of military conflicts in the United States.
Bernardo de Galvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston, born in Malaga Spain in 1746, was a Spanish military leader and the General of Spanish forces in Mexico. Galvez aided the original thirteen colonies in their search for independence and led the Spanish armies against the British in the Revolutionary War. He assisted the American revolutionaries by opening up the port of New Orleans to them. He mandated that all British subjects leave Louisiana, thereby destroying British trade in the region. Galveston, Texas and other U.S. cities are named in his honor. He served as Governor of Louisiana and as Governor of Cuba.
Sgt. J.M. Lopez from Arizona and Col. W. Gallegos from Colorado were the two Hispanic Marines who were taken hostage on November 4, 1979 (when the American Embassy in Teheran was seized by Moslem students) and were released on January 20, 1981 after enduring physical deprivation, psychological abuse and beatings.
Col. Manuel J. Fernández, Jr., is considered the first Hispanic Flying Ace and flew 125 combat missions in the Korean War.
Philip Bazaar, a Chilean member of the U.S. Navy, is the first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient for bravery during the Civil War. He received his Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865.
In 1982, Ricard E. Cavazos became the U.S. Army's first Hispanic four-star general.
In 1979, Edward Hidalgo, became the first Hispanic Secretary of the Navy.
President Richard M. Nixon appointed the first Hispanic U.S. Treasurer, Romana Acosta Bañuelos, who served his administration as the 34th treasurer from 1971–1974. Since then other Latinas have served as U.S. Treasurer: Katherine Davalos Ortega [38th Treasurer 1983-1989], Catalina Vasquez Villapando [39th Treasurer 1989-1993], Rosario Marin [41st Treasurer 2001-2003] and Anna Cabral Escobedo [42nd Treasurer 2004 – 2009] and Rosa Gumataotao [2009 – present].
Lucy González Parsons, born 1853 in Texas, is considered the first female Hispanic labor leader. She helped to found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and is an early socialist activist.
Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo (pictured at left), born 1859 in Mexico, served as Governor and Senator from New Mexico. He was the first U.S. Senator of Hispanic heritage. A devoutly religious man, he changed political affiliation to Republican when the State Convention of the Democratic Party denied his request that one-half of all statewide nominees be Hispanic to represent the sixty percent of the population of New Mexico that was Hispanic. He was elected as the first Hispanic to serve as Governor of the State of New Mexico. After serving two years as Governor he was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives. Larrazolo was elected in 1928 to finish the term of U.S. Senator Andieus Jones, who had died in office. He served for six months before falling ill and stepping down; he died in 1930. Nevertheless, Larrazolo was the first Hispanic elected to the United States Senate.
The first Hispanic member of the U.S. cabinet was Lauro Fred Cavazos Jr. (pictured at right), who served as Secretary of Education from 1988-1990 in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and President George Herbert Walker Bush.
In 1966 a statue of Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico was dedicated in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
The first Hispanic to serve the U.S. Congress and the first delegate from the territory of Florida is Joseph Marion Hernández, of the 17th Congress from September 30, 1822 – March 3, 1823. In 1845 Hernández ran for the United States Senate as a Whig candidate, but was defeated. He then moved to Cuba where he managed his family's sugar estate.
Antonia Coello Novello is the first Hispanic (Puerto Rican) and woman to serve as U.S. Surgeon General. From 1990-1993 she worked for the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush as our nation's 14th Surgeon General.
Dionisio "Dennis" Chavez, 1888 -1962, of New Mexico, is the first Hispanic senator to serve an entire term, serving from 1935 – 1962. In 1922, Dennis was elected to the state House of Representatives and in 1930 and 1932 voters elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1935, following the death of Senator Bronson Cutting, he was appointed by Governor Clyde Tingley to fill the vacancy. He handily won election to the office the following year, serving in the Senate until his death in Washington D.C. in 1962. He was fond of proclaiming he was "American before Plymouth Rock" tracing his roots in the New World to a 17th century Spanish land grant.
In 1983, Federico Peña (pictured at left) became the first Hispanic Mayor of Denver, Colorado. From 1997-1998 he served as the first Hispanic U.S. Secretary of Energy doing so in the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton.
In 1981, Henry G. Cisneros became the first Hispanic Mayor of a major U.S. city. He later served as the first Hispanic Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton from 1993-1997.
Romualdo Pacheco (pictured at right) is the only Hispanic to serve as Governor of California. In 1871, he served as Lt. Gov. to Governor Booth who later won election to the U.S. Senate, thereby leaving Pacheco as the Governor of California. In 1876 Pacheco was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by a one-vote margin. He served for four months before his opponent succeeded in contesting the results. In 1879 he was again elected to Congress, where he served for two terms.