If you didn’t know, March is Women’s History Month and I’m all the way here for it! Celebrating women is what we do here at Creations By Sasha! In fact, the celebration of the power of women was a major driver behind The Queen Collection. I truly believe that women are amazing. Women are capable of amazing things and have been overshadowed in history books and by society. This month I’m celebrating how awesome we are! Instead of focusing on the women we hear about all the time, I decided to highlight little know women both past and present. Want to feel inspired? Here are 5 women to keep you inspired all month long!
I wouldn’t be a true Puerto Rican woman if I didn’t start off by highlighting the first Latina to the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. When I tell you that this woman gives me so much pride, it’s truly an understatement. Her history is nearly identical to my parents.
Sonia Sotomayor was born and raised in The Bronx, NYC, and considers herself a Nuyorican (my parents grew up in Manhattan). Her parents came straight from the island and her dad couldn’t even speak English. Her mom, Celina, served in the Women’s Army Corps and later worked as a telephone operator and then a practical nurse.
Although her father died when she was nine, and her mom was “emotionally distant”, she stressed the importance of education. She was valedictorian and had a near-perfect attendance record in elementary school, graduated as valedictorian from her high school, and graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University. She earned her Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1979 as was nominated for the high court in 2009. Her story is the story of so many Puerto Ricans. It’s truly amazing how much she achieved in such a relatively short amount of time.
Anna May Wong
Part of celebrating Women’s History is celebrating women of ALL backgrounds. Which is why I thought it was important to celebrate a woman like Anna May Wong. Anna was a Chinese-American actress who grew up close to Chinatown in Los Angeles. Her father was a big believer in the creative arts and would take her family to see traditional Chinese stage productions. Anna grew up in a time where the film industry was just starting and dreamed about being in the movies.
When she was 14, a local minister who worked with film productions recommended her as an extra Alla Nazimova silent production of The Red Lantern. She’d eventually leave school before graduating and was cast in the lead role of Lotus Flower in The Toll of the Sea.
Anna worked in Hollywood during a time when Asians were looked down on. If you didn’t know “yellow-face” was also a thing and many Asian roles were played by non-Asian actors where yellow makeup and taping their eyelids to mimic what they thought were Asian features. Anna faced the typical pay disparities between herself and white actors and felt stereotyped to certain roles. She would move to Germany before coming back to the U.S. and appearing in a handful of TV roles until her death in 1961.
Despite the film industry at the time, she made 61 films (40 during the silent era of film) and paved the way for Asian women to show up in movies, a group that even today, is still woefully underrepresented.
An often overlooked group of women are the Indigenous ones. So of course, I had to highlight Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Up to age 11, she lived on her family’s allotment in Oklahoma until they were relocated to San Francisco as part of a government to urbanize Native Americans.
Wilma was inspired by the social and political movements of the 60s, and would become involved in the Occupation of Alcatrax and land and compensation struggles with the Pit River Tribe. She also worked as a social worker with children.
When she returned to OK, she was hired by Cherokee Nation as an economic stimulus coordinator and would later become the Director of the Community Development Department. In 1983, she became the first elected woman to serve as Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation and would then become the Principal Chief, serving until 1995. During her tenure, “the Cherokee government built new health clinics, created a mobile eye-care clinic, established ambulance services, and created early education, adult education, and job training programs. She developed revenue streams including factories, retail stores, restaurants, and bingo operations while establishing self-governance allowing the tribe to manage its own finances.”
After she retired, she returned to activism, advocating to improve the image of Indigenous people and combat the misapporation of native heritage. She was honored with local, state, and national awards, including receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This one is for my Muslim sisters. I wanted to make sure to highlight Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer and the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics and winning bronze while wearing it!
Ibtihaj grew up in Maplewood, NJ. Her dad, a retired Newark, police officer, and mom, an elementary school special-ed teacher, converted to Islam before Ibtihaj was born. As part of their religious beliefs, her parents sought out a sport where she could participate while still wearing her hijab.
Ibtihaj wore the hijab at a young age and while growing up and pursuing a career in fencing she thought that keeping her hijab would inpsire other women and young girls to break boundaries and pursue their own dreams even while wearing the hijab.
She would become a symbol of diversity and tolerance during her Olympic run which took place during the 2016 Presidential election (which in case y’all forgot featured Trump bashing Muslims and promoting a Muslim-ban). Some folks weren’t happy with her when during the Olympics, she described the U.S. as a dangerous place for Muslims, saying that she did “not feel safe” as a Muslim living in America, but I think she was just speaking facts. We know our country isn’t a fan of Muslims so I’m happy to highlight a woman that’s breaking barriers despite that.
Before Noami Campbell and Tyra Banks, there was Peggy Anne Freeman, better known as Donyale Luna. Donyale gained popularity in Europe during the late 60s and would become the first Black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue, in March 1966.
Although she entered modeling during a time when “white-passing” models were favored, she’s credited with being the first black model to change that dynamic and enable more diverse women to breakthrough. She was a Covergirl 11 times between 1965 and 1975.
When she was 18, she started going by Donyale George Luna as a way to deal with her turbulent home life (her parents would marry and divorce four times throughout her life).
She moved to NYC to pursue acting and modeling and would sign an exclusive contract with Harper’s Bazaar editor Nancy White. Her first job was a shoot for Mademoiselle starring Woody Allen. She would also have her likeness sketched into an illustration for the January 1965 cover of Harper’s Bazaar, making her the first black person ever put on the cover in its then 98 years of publication (she was portrayed as ethnically ambiguous). She would go on to witness American journalists spitting on fashion designers for only working with black models and Southern US advertisers pulling their advertising revenue and readers canceling subscriptions due to her images being included in Harper’s Bazaar.