By Raul A. Reyes for NBC News
2020 has been a year marked by grief and loss, but it is in the spirit of remembrance, not sadness, that we highlight the lives of several Latinos we said goodbye to this year. From Hollywood to Washington, from academia to the armed forces, these are just a few of our “familia” who enriched our communities, our lives and our nation before leaving us.
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(1972), a coming-of-age story set in 1940s New Mexico. “Ultima” follows the relationship between a young boy and a curandera (healer) who comes to live with his family. A bestseller at a time when U.S. Latinos were rarely depicted in mainstream fiction, it has become one of the most acclaimed works in the Chicano literary canon. “Ultima” inspired generations of Latino writers, and it was adapted into a play, an opera and a film.
Books like ‘Ultima’ are part of our personal reading history. Because they are taught in schools, we don’t forget seeing ourselves on the page for the first time,” writer and critic Rigoberto González said. “Seeing names like ours, and figures that are familiar to us, is powerful.” González said he believes “Ultima” will continue to have longevity in libraries and schools and on bookshelves.
Anaya, a prolific author who wrote mysteries, children’s books and travel chronicles, received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2016 for his “pioneering stories of the American Southwest.”
NAYA RIVERA, 33, actress and singer. Condolences poured in from around the world when news broke of the drowning death of Rivera in July. “As a Latina, it’s rare to have rich, complex characters reflect us in media,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted. “Naya worked hard to give that gift to so many.”
Rivera performed throughout her childhood, but it was her role on TV’s “Glee” (2009-15) that catapulted her to fame. Rivera, an advocate for the LGBTQ community, for immigrants and for women’s rights, earned three American Latino Media Arts Awards for her acting and singing. In 2016 she released her memoir, “Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.”
“She was the rare Afro-Latina on network TV, and when her character came out as gay, it was a historic moment for LGBTQ representation in prime time,” entertainment journalist Jack Rico said. Pointing out that 22 percent of Latino millennials identify as LGBTQ, Rico called Rivera’s portrayal of cheerleader Santana Lopez “groundbreaking,” saying it paved the way for queer characters on shows like “One Day at a Time” and “Vida.”
Rico said he believes Rivera died on the cusp of another career resurgence. “I could see true stardom in her. When people die young it really hurts, because we lose them and also their potential,” he said. “She was a guiding light for all of us struggling for more diversity and representation.”