Americans are familiar with many famous Mexican people, and some are surprisingly unknown. A brief look at some of these will demonstrate their importance and influence to the world at large.
Born in 1794 in Xalapa-Enríquez, Veracruz, Santa Anna was at various times a military officer, president and dictator. He is certainly one of the most famous Mexican people in history. He famously fought Spain’s attempt to retake rule of his country again. Santa Anna also fought against France and the United States, most famously defeating Texans at the Battle of the Alamo.
Born in 1878 in Durango, Pancho Villa was a bandit in his youth. Reformer Francisco Madero inspired him to turn his efforts to fight in the Mexican Revolution. He formed his army to oppose the coup by Victoriano Huerta and fought battles across the country. His exploits inspired a popular following that included many songs and even an early documentary film. He was assassinated in 1923 in Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua.
Another important leader in the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1920) was Emiliano Zapata. Born in 1879 in Anenecuilco, Morelos, he famously led the Liberation Army of the South. These guerrilla brigades styled themselves Zapatistas. Zapata was a fought for agrarianism, a philosophy that prizes rural society over cities.
Perhaps one of the best known and most prominent artists is Diego Rivera, born in Guanajuato in 1886. Rivera was an accomplished muralist who sought to illustrate the lives of the ordinary man in his native country. Authorities hounded Rivera throughout his life because of his commitment to socialism. He married famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, popularly known as Frida Kahlo, was born in Coyocoán, Mexico City. Widely considered one of Mexico’s premier visual artists, she began to paint after a bus accident severely injured her. Kahlo’s life was the subject of a 2002 major-release film starring Mexican actress Salma Hayek as Kahlo, bringing to attention to her as one of the most famous Mexican people in the arts. She married Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
One of the most famous Mexican people today, Alfonso Cuarón is an Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter. He was born in Mexico City in 1968. Cuarón is best known for projects like Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men and Gravity. His talent and creativity make him an A-list film professional throughout the world.
Mario Molina is a physical chemist who was born in Mexico City in 1943. He posited that compounds from man-made activities had an effect on earth’s ozone layer and, therefore, climate change. For this work, he won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Rodolfo Neri Vela, a mechanical and electrical engineer, was born in 1952 in Chilpancingo, Guerrero. In 1985, he flew in the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis as a payload specialist. The crew deployed three communications satellites, one of which was a Mexican satellite, Morelos-B. He also performed many experiments in space for the Mexican government during his seven days in space.
Ana María López Colomé is one of Mexico’s preeminent scientists. Born in 1944 in Mexico City, the biochemist won the 2002 L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science – Latin America for her pioneering work in the study of the retina of the eye. Her work focuses on preventing retinitis pigmentosa that is responsible for many cases of blindness and other diseases of the retina.
L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science
Poet and essayist Octavio Paz was born in 1914 in Mexico City to a family of political journalists. He was inspired by his grandfather’s library to take up writing as a profession. He published his first book of poems, Luna silvestre, in 1933.
Paz continued to write until his death in 1998, producing more than 20 books and collections of poetry. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, making him one of the most famous Mexican people in the world of literature and the arts.
Carlos Fuentes Macías was born in Panama in 1928, but Mexicans recognize him as one of their most prominent writers. Some of his best known works are The Death of Artemio Cruz, The Old Gringo and Christopher Unborn. He won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize and the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honor, Mexico’s highest prize for literature.
Enrique Krauze Kleinbort, popularly known as Enrique Krauze, was born in Mexico City in 1947. Krauze is a supporter of right-wing politics and is a prolific author of books about Mexican figures and its revolution. He is the founder of the Clio publishing house and television production company. He founded the magazine Letras Libres.
FIFA, the world soccer organization, named Hugo Sánchez Márquez as the Best Mexican Soccer Player in History. Born in Mexico City in 1950, people called him "The Golden Child". Along with Lionel Messi and Pelé, he completed the triumvirate of the Historic Sports Heritage of Humanity.
A golfer from the age of 5, this Guadalajara, Jalisco native was ranked number one in the world of women’s golf. After her education and amateur career at the University of Arizona, she hit the links of the LPGA tour in 2003. While on tour, she became the first and only Mexican rank number one. She received Mexico’s National Sports Award in 2001. Ochoa retired to private life in 2010.
Fernando Valenzuela, nicknamed El Toro by his fans, was an amazingly productive major-league baseball pitcher. He came from Etchohuaquila, a small town within Navojoa, Sonora. At the end of his professional career, he counted 2,000 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award. He currently is the Spanish-language commentator for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Don Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo-Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor, better known as Miguel Hidalgo, was both a priest and a leader in the Mexican War of Independence.
One of the most famous Mexican people, Hidalgo worked to lift the poor farmers of Mexico out of poverty. In 1810, he gave "The Cry of Dolores" speech urging Mexicans to support the king, Fernando VII, then held captive by Napoleon. Nearly 90,000 attacked Spanish soldiers, but most either fled or died at the Battle of Calderón Bridge on January 17, 1811.
Benito Pablo Juárez García was born in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca in 1806 of Zapotec parentage. One of the true national heroes of Mexico, he served as president from 1861 to 1872. He fought the occupation under Emperor Maximilian and struggled tirelessly to enact constitutional reforms that would create a federal democratic republic in his country.
José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, perhaps one of the most famous Mexican people from Oaxaca, served as a General of the Republican troops against Emperor Maximilian. After his military service, he served as president from 1876 to 1911, a total of seven terms, the "Porfiriato".