Sep 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Latino ingenuity: From the color TV to oral birth control

Illustration of a light bulb with a filament in the shape of Central and South America.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

From color TV to medical breakthroughs that led to the birth control pill, Latin America and the Caribbean have had game-changing influences on the world.

Why it matters: Hispanic Heritage Month begins Wednesday and over the next four weeks, the Axios Latino newsletter is highlighting Latinos' contributions to the world, from ancient agricultural practices to more recent innovations in medicine, science and education.

Details: Examples include the Happy Meal, now a fast food staple with a toy included to appeal directly to children, that was the brainchild of Guatemalan Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, who passed away last week.

  • A Mexican scientist developed the first synthetic ovulation-blocking hormone, which paved the way for the birth control pill. And a Chilean researcher devised the contraceptive implant, the most effective form of birth control.
  • Lasik, a method to permanently improve eyesight, exists thanks to testing procedures done in Colombia by ophthalmologist José Barraquer.
  • Puerto Rican Fernando E. Rodríguez, a U.S. Army major, led the initial research that led to the discovery of the bacteria that causes dental cavities and how they can be treated.

Between the lines: U.S. Latinos continue to endure hardships brought with the pandemic, as new variants appear.

  • U.S. Latinos are the group with the highest likelihood of being hospitalized or of dying from COVID-19 compared to white non-Hispanics, per CDC data.
  • Latinos have also been acutely affected by the economic downturn that came with the pandemic, became more likely to drop out of school, and for a while struggled to have equal access to vaccinations.

Flashback: Hispanic Heritage was originally celebrated as a week-long event in the U.S. starting 1968 after a proclamation from Lyndon B. Johnson.

  • It became a month-long event by law in 1988, with a bill pushed by then-Sen. Esteban Torres (D-Calif.)
  • The festivities are meant to coincide with several independence anniversaries in Latin America, including Mexico, Chile and most Central American countries.
  • This year will mark the bicentennial of independence from Spain for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.

The intrigue: Most other independence anniversaries in South America and the Caribbean are celebrated between May and August.

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