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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.

Get more news that matters about Latinos in the hemisphere, delivered right to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sign up for the Axios Latino newsletter.

Go deeper

Hispanic and Latino Americans remain marginalized in popular films, report finds

The cast from "In Ther Heights" at the opening premier in June. Photo: John Lamparski/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Latino and Hispanic Americans are vastly neglected and poorly represented in popular films, according to a new report from the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Why it matters: The report, released on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, found that while Hispanic and Latino Americans have the highest per-capita theater attendance in the nation, they're rarely cast in lead roles in popular films.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.