These Latino Leaders Are Reshaping Their Industries–and the Country

TIME is featuring prominent U.S.-based Latino leaders across industries who are making an impact from Hollywood to Washington and in between.

These Latino Leaders Are Reshaping Their Industries–and the Country

Over the next few months, TIME will be featuring prominent U.S.-based Latino leaders across industries who are making an impact on Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and everywhere in between.

Latinos—who are by no means a monolith but, as a collective, represent one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country—are reshaping every aspect of American society. Today, nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S., or more than 63 million people, identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census, and by 2060 the number of Latinos in the U.S. is projected to almost double.

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The first group of leaders highlighted by TIME this Hispanic Heritage Month includes veteran labor champion Dolores Huerta, who has been at the forefront of civil rights advocacy for decades, as well as Julio Rodríguez, a rising baseball star who has already broken a number of records and is just getting started.

Read on for profiles of the first set of people TIME has chosen to spotlight as inspiring Latino leaders in government, fashion, sports, culture, business, and more—a list that, naturally, will continue to grow.

Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo’s love of storytelling started decades before she became a bestselling author and the Young People’s Poet Laureate. It began in the classroom, during her time as a student and later on as an English teacher, where she grasped the significance of having Latino representation in literature.

“I read anything and everything put in front of me, but it was different when I read a book about someone who was from a city, from a big family, trying to navigate gender, race, and language, because there was an affirmation of who I was in those books,” says Acevedo, 35, a Dominican American raised in New York City. She decided she could contribute to that canon: “I had to face the questions of inaccuracy I had around who is allowed to write a book and thought, ‘Why not me?’” 

Acevedo has since published three notable young-adult novels: The Poet X, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018, With the Fire on High a year later, and 2020’s Clap When You Land, which has been tapped by the production company Made Up Stories for a television adaptation with Acevedo as a screenwriter. Her latest novel Family Lore, Acevedo’s first for adults, explores the dynamics between women in a Dominican American family. Acevedo says all her books “stretch the ability of language” to illustrate the intricacies of family, justice, and womanhood within Latinidad. “If a book was a gala, I’m honoring and giving flowers to hood morenitas from all over the world,” she says.

More than the acclaim she’s received, Acevedo says she finds it most gratifying when readers tell her they’ve shared her books with their family members and had intergenerational conversations after reading them. “You don’t receive a prize for that,” she says, “but it is the most moving testament to what I hope my work can do.” –Mariah Espada

Willy Chavarria

At the heart of Willy Chavarria’s designs is a radical celebration of authenticity. The 56-year-old fashion designer, who’s also a senior vice president of menswear at Calvin Klein, founded his eponymous label in 2015, with a hunger for beauty in all forms and a refusal to water down his politics to appeal to the industry. “That was the first thing I talked about with my team,” Chavarria says. “We are a brand that is political and stands up for justice and human dignity—that will always be a part of our ethos.”

Chavarria began his career in fashion nearly three decades ago working in the stockroom of Joe Boxer as a college student, before moving into a design role at the company; later, he did stints at brands including Ralph Lauren and American Eagle. He attributes his convictions to his experiences moving through the world as a queer Chicano man and to growing up in a politically active, working-class Mexican family in a small town in California’s Central Valley.

His commitment to delivering fashion with a message has taken many forms: sharply tailored suiting, voluminous silhouettes, and subversive workwear that challenge conventions around gender and sexuality; runway shows that bring issues like immigration to the forefront, like his spring/summer 2019 collection, which began with the spoken prompt, “Have you ever seen a human in a cage?”; and castings that show a more expansive view of beauty by centering models of color and selecting real people, from his friends to strangers on the street, to appear alongside professionals.

Chavarria’s values as much as his innovative designs have made him stand out in the fashion world, but he hopes his success is indicative of a bigger shift for the industry. “I think the fashion industry is very much ready for change,” he says. “I would love to see a more authentic connection with people, a more positive approach to inclusion, and a way to show that we can be elegant and gorgeous and still be kind and sensitive.” –Cady Lang

Robin Arzón

Robin Arzón never expected to become one of the most influential figures in the fitness world. A near-death experience in a hostage situation during college led her to take up running as she tried to cope with the trauma, but health and exercise were not initially her career focus. She worked for seven years as a corporate attorney in New York City but in 2012 left her job to coach people on how to bike, run, lift weights, and move their bodies. Today as the head instructor of Peloton, she’s one of the most recognizable faces at the company. She’s also written a memoir and hosted a MasterClass on mental strength.

Her reach expanded even further in 2021 when Peloton decided to launch classes in Spanish, an initiative in which Arzón, daughter of a Cuban mother and Puerto Rican father, played a major role. “Our communities need movement,” she says, emphasizing the importance of Peloton’s cycling rides that highlight Spanish-language musical artists.

Arzón, 42, is currently on maternity leave with her second child but keeping busy. In addition to running her membership club, Swagger Society, she is publishing another book this September, a journal with motivational quotes and goal-setting frameworks titled Welcome, Hustler. She recorded classes for Peloton throughout both her pregnancies and has made motherhood and passing on the traditions of her forebears a central part of her brand. Last year, she published a children’s book called Strong Mama, and this summer, she launched a bilingual toyline, Bebé Fuerte, that encourages age-appropriate movement for children with phrases in both English and Spanish. 

“I carry my mother’s story as a Cuban refugee and my father’s Boricua legacy with me,” she says. “As a mother, I plan to pass on the history, rich with tenacity.” She adds: “The energy of a thousand abuelas are with me.” –Eliana Dockterman

Miguel Cardona

As the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona oversees a department that provides guidance for roughly 65 million students nationwide, from pre-K to adult learners.

Ever since he joined the Cabinet in March 2021, he has been faced with a series of historic challenges, from how to safely return to in-person teaching after the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, to advising colleges and universities on how to legally recruit diverse student bodies after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last summer. This October, millions of federal student loan borrowers must resume payments for the first time in three years, and Cardona is focused on getting them enrolled in an income-driven repayment program that could cut what they owe on undergraduate loans in half.

The grandson of a sugarcane farmer from Puerto Rico, Cardona, 48, grew up in a bilingual household in Meriden, Conn., and he says he has a special affinity for students who may have been underestimated because their English wasn’t as strong as their native tongue. He’s especially focused on closing racial achievement gaps and making sure schools have the resources to support multilingual students so that they can compete in the global economy.

“There are so many students with the same potential that I had that oftentimes may be overlooked in our schools,” Cardona says. “I know that across America we have students with tremendous potential, as long as people believe in them. People believed in me in my community, so I want to make sure that the same is true in all communities in our country.” –Olivia B. Waxman

Gloria Calderón Kellett

Gloria Calderón Kellett’s creative ambitions have always gone far beyond mere representation. The 48-year-old showrunner, producer, writer, director, and actor has devoted her career to expanding not just the number but also the variety of stories Hollywood tells about the Latino community. “We are still in a pretty dire state of erasure,” Calderón Kellett says. “So, for me, the fix to that is: put us everywhere. Because we are everywhere.”

After getting her start as a screenwriter on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Devious Maids, Calderón Kellett, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, co-created an acclaimed reboot of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time, this time centering on a multigenerational Cuban American family. Since that series wrapped in 2020 after four critically acclaimed seasons, Calderón Kellett has become remarkably prolific. Along with creating With Love, a rom-com series that spotlights lovers of all ages and sexualities, and executive producing gory gentrification satire The Horror of Dolores Roach, Calderón Kellett has multiple feature film projects in development and a play slated to debut at Pasadena Playhouse in early 2024. In January, she was appointed to the Television Academy’s Executive Committee.

Yet Calderón Kellett isn’t letting success make her complacent. If anything, she’s become more vocal than ever about the political power of storytelling. A member of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, she sounded off on a picket line in August about the crucial need for solidarity among Latino artists: “Policymaking starts by what people see in Hollywood.”

And she isn’t just speaking out—she’s doing real work to make change in the entertainment industry. Calderón Kellett also chairs the arts nonprofit Creative Coalition’s Diversity Gap Initiative, which subsidizes the living expenses of new hires in the entertainment industry who come from low-income backgrounds. “The advocacy goes hand in hand with the work that I do,” she explains. “The reason I’m a storyteller is because I didn’t see myself [in pop culture]. And so I want other people to not feel that they’re invisible.” –Judy Berman

Julio Rodríguez

Julio Rodríguez’s numbers are reason enough to declare him the future of baseball. In September, the Seattle Mariners center fielder, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, became just the fourth player age 22 or younger to join the 30-30 club—30 or more home runs and stolen bases in the same season. During his relentless August, “J-Rod” broke the MLB record for most hits in a four-game span, with 17. In his 2022 rookie campaign, Rodríguez became the first player in major league history with 15 or more home runs, 50 or more RBIs, and 20 or more stolen bases in his first 90 career games. According to one advanced datapoint on power and production, Rodríguez joined Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Ted Williams as the best rookie position players ever. It’s no wonder that, in August 2022, Seattle gave Rodríguez a massive contract extension, worth at least $210 million over a dozen years.

What may be more important than J-Rod’s stats, however, is his personality. Baseball needs marketable stars. Rodríguez shines with a smile on his face and engages with fans at the stadium and through social media. “It’s really important for me to show that you’ve got to have fun in this game,” says Rodríguez, 22. “If you take it too seriously, you’re not really sending a good message to people. I’m always spreading positivity.”

Rodríguez helped the Mariners end a 21-year playoff drought in 2022; Seattle is fighting for postseason position down the home stretch this year. The Mariners, who entered the majors as an expansion team in 1977, are the only existing baseball franchise to never reach a World Series. Long-suffering Mariners fans, Rodríguez says, “should know that we’re always going to put in the work. We’re always going to be fighting for them. Because that’s what they deserve.”

With J-Rod roaming center field, the payoff should be sweet. –Sean Gregory

Erik Ramirez

Erik Ramirez discovered his passion for cooking as a teenager during a summer with his uncle in Grand Isle, La., a remote town on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. By day, Ramirez would work at a local supermarket, while evenings were spent in the kitchen, where the two would try to prepare food from a range of backgrounds and styles.

“He wasn’t a chef, but he really enjoyed cooking,” Ramirez says of his uncle. “He made it fun.”

Ramirez, now 42, went on to get a culinary education at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, then worked his way up through the kitchens of some of the top-rated restaurants in the world, before opening his own in Brooklyn. He was among the chefs to serve the stars at the 2021 Met Gala and was a finalist for the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award in 2023. Today, he has two restaurants in New York City (and another on the way), one in Madrid, and one in London.

Born in New Jersey to Peruvian parents with Japanese and Italian ancestry, Ramirez has tailored his menus around his own cosmopolitan cultural heritage. His flagship restaurant, Llama Inn, serves Peruvian-inspired fare infused with flavors, ingredients, and techniques from across the globe, such as lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish, served with Chinese crepes and chiles on the side.

That the concept would attract critical acclaim was hardly a given, says Ramirez, who had grown used to seeing such praise reserved for chefs at European or New American restaurants. “I had never looked at Peruvian cuisine as something that I wanted to cook, because I always had this idea of it being homey, traditional.” Now, however, he’s determined to help it be taken more seriously in the culinary world—“to show,” he says, “that it belongs among the best of the best.” –Solcyre Burga

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta is a civil rights icon who has spent her life championing better working conditions for laborers.

“The working people, these are the fabric of the country,” Huerta, 93, says. “And if they cannot afford to feed their families, then that reflects on the whole economy.”

Huerta, who is Mexican American, was born in the mining town of Dawson, N.M. Her activism career began in 1955 when she founded a chapter of the Community Service Organization, which led voter-registration drives. She then co-founded the United Farm Workers Association (UFW), alongside her longtime collaborator Cesar Chavez. 

In 1965, Huerta stood beside striking grape-farm workers as growers tried to run them over with cars and pointed rifles at them. She was the lead negotiator in the contract they secured that included provisions eliminating harmful pesticides, allowing for rest periods, and securing access to drinking water and toilets in the field.

While at UFW, Dolores helped usher in an immigration law that legalized most undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 1982. “That act helped thousands of people get their immigration status in the United States of America,” she says.

Her famous slogan, “Si, se puede”—Spanish for “Yes, we can”—has lived on beyond its original intent, which was to quell concerns that workers in Arizona could not strike because a state law could send them to prison. It’s now a rallying cry for progressive change—one commandeered by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. When she met President Obama for the first time after he was elected, he thanked her for letting him steal her slogan. That was “pretty awesome,” she says.

Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Now, through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she is focused on increasing access to voting and training young political organizers. “When we look at all of the movements that have changed things in our country,” she says, “it’s always been young people.” –Sanya Mansoor