Posted by: Government & Heritage Library | September 23, 2010

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Prominent Hispanic North Carolinians and Hispanic Firsts

From September 15- October 15, we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.  According to the Pew Institute, North Carolina is the home of  678,000 Hispanics.  During this month, the Government & Heritage Library Blog recognizes the strength and hard work by Hispanic North Carolinians through a series of posts that celebrate Hispanic heritage.

This post is a compilation of famous or prominent Hispanic North Carolinains who have made a difference in their field and community.  The second portion of this post is a list of important Hispanic firsts that have been completed by Hispanics around the United States.

Prominent Hispanic North Carolinians


Frankie Muniz starred in "Malcolm in the Middle."

Frankie Muniz– This ½ Puerto Rican Knightdale native shot to fame in childhood in the popular show Malcolm in the Middle. Movies he has acted in include My Dog Skip, Big Fat Liar, and Agent Cody Banks. He is also involved in competitive racing.

For more information on Frankie visit his racing website:

Frankie’s Twitter account:


Dr. H. Nolo Martínez Dr. Martínez was born in Puerto Rico and lived in North Carolina for over twenty years.  Dr. Martínez is a leader in Latino community serving as the senior policy advisor for El Pueblo Inc., serving as the first Dirtector of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, founded the North Carolina Farmers and Farm Workers AgrAbility Project and the North Carolina Legal Immigration Commission, and Director of Nuestro Banco. Dr. Martínez earned a doctorate degree in adult education from North Carolina State University.


Ariel DorfmanAriel was born in Chile but left in 1973 after the military coup.  He is a professor of Literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University and an accomplished writer.  Some of his books include: Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land, and Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet. He is known for writing the 1994 movie Death and the Maiden which starred Sigourney Weaver and writing and appearing in the documentary A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman.

For more information visit Ariel’s website:

Paul Cuadros Paul is an award winning investigative reporter and son of Peruvian immigrants who calls North Carolina his home.  He is currently an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His writing has focused on poverty, race, and immigration.  He has worked for the Chicago Reporter, the Center for Public Integrity, and does freelance work for Time magazine.  He is also the author of A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America based on his experiences creating and coaching a soccer team for Mexican immigrants in Siler City, North Carolina.

To find a copy of his book in your local library click here.

Josefina Niggli- Born in Mexico in 1910, her family later moved to Texas. In 1956, she began teaching at Western Carolina University and remained until her retirement in 1975. She was a member of the Carolina Playmakers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she earned her M.A.  She is known for writing several plays and books including: A Miracle for Mexico and Step Down, Elder Brother. Her book Mexican Village was made into a movie entitled Sombrero.

To find her books in a local library click here.


Alex Castellanos is an influential media advisor.

Alejandro “Alex” Castellanos Alex was born in Havana, Cuba and fled in the 1960s to Coats, NC.   He is a former Morehead and National Merit Scholar at the University of North Carolina.  Alex can often be seen on CNN as a guest commentator.  He has also appeared on Meet the Press, Hardball, and Crossfire.  He is best known for being a media adviser for Bush & Cheney during the 2004 election as well as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

For more information see Alex’s website.

Gabriela Zabala– Gabriela Zabala was appointed Director of the Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs by Gov. Bev Perdue in 2010. She is also a board member of Congressman Bob Etheridge’s Health Hispanic Task Force and she is a founder of the N.C. Hispanic Democratic Party.  She is a also a former member and founder of the Coalition against Hispanic Battered Women, N.C. Linguistic Task Force and Voces Unidas, first organization of the Wake County Health and Human Services Center.  Zabala has served as a public health consultant for Hispanic health programs and other minorities in the state of North Carolina. She served on DHHS’s Title VI Steering Committee, Obesity Prevention Grant Team and as chair on the Hispanic Health Task Force. She also represented DHHS on the N.C. Hispanic Governor’s Council.

To read about Gabriela’s appointment as Director of the Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs by Gov. Bev Perdue click here.


Hernado de Soto is credited with being the first to explore North Carolina.

Hernado de Soto- De Soto was the first European to explore Florida, Geogria, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  He was born in Spain in 1496.  He discovered the Mississippi River and participated in the conquest of Nicaragua and Peru.

To find books in your local library about Hernado de Soto click here.


Dr. Pedro Sanchez- Dr. Sanchez was born in Cuba but currently works for NC State as a professor and researcher of tropical soils. Sanchez has received several honors and awards including the 2002 World Food Prize, the Charles A. Black Award from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2008.  He is the author of “Properties and Management of Soils of the Tropics” as well as over 200 publications.

Hispanic Firsts-

First Astronaut: Franklin Chang-Diaz

Flew in space in 1986.

First U.S. Attorney General: Alberto Gonzales

Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican professional baseball player and a Major League Baseball right fielder.

Served as U.S. Attorney General from 2005-2007.

First Baseball Hall of Famer: Roberto Clemente

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.

First Surgeon General: Antonia Novello

Antonia was both the first woman and Hispanic to serve as the Surgeon General from 1990 to 1993.

First Pulitzer Prize: Oscar Hijuelos

The book “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” won in 1990 for fiction.

First Democratic Candidate for President: Bill Richardson

Richardson ran for President in 2008.

First Rock and Roll of Fame Inductee: Carlos Santana

Santana was inducted in 1998.

First Owner of a Major U.S. Sports Franchise: Arturo Moreno

He bought the Los Angeles Angels in 2003.

First Supermodel: Christy Turlington

Christy represented Calvin Klein from 1987 to 2007.

First Spanish-language Newspaper: El Misisipi

El Misisipi was founded in New Orleans in 1808.

First Hispanic Congressman:  Joseph Hernendez

Hernendez was elected as the representative for the territory of Florida in 1822.

First Hispanic Political Party: El Partido del Pueblo Unido (The United People’s Party)

This party was founded in 1890 by Feliz Martinez Jr.

Geraldo Rivera was the first Hispanic talk show host.

First Hispanic Talk Show Host:  Geraldo Miguel Rivera

Rivera became the first talk show host in 1987 when his show Geraldo was televised nationally.

First Hispanic to Have a University Named after Him:  Dr. Carlos Albizu Miranda

In 2000, the Caribbean Center for Advanced Studies which he founded was renamed the Carlos Albizu University.

First Hispanic Spy: Roman Antonio Baca

In 1862, Baca who was an officer in the New Mexico Volunteers became a spy for the United States.

First Hispanic Medal of Honor Winner:  Philip Bazaar

Bazaar won the Medal of Honor in 1865 for conduct during the battle for Fort Fisher in the American Civil War.


Castro, I. A. (2007). 100 Hispanics you should know. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Kanellos, N. (1993). Reference library of Hispanic America. New York: Gale Research.

Resources at the Government & Heritage Library

Paul Cuadros- His book can be found here.

Pedro Sanchez-  Some of his books can be found here.

Books on Hispanic topics can be found here.

Kanellos, N. (1997). Hispanic firsts: 500 years of extraordinary achievement. Detroit: Gale.

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