Ellen Ochoa and Teresa Romero
Ellen Ochoa and Teresa Romero Creative Commons

President Joe Biden will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to 19 recipients this year. The cohort that includes two Latinas: Ellen Ochoa and Teresa Romero.

Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman in space and the second female director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, while Romero is the president of the United Farm Workers and the first Latina to become president of a national union in the United States.

The awards will be presented at the White House on Friday, marking the second time during Biden's presidency that he has bestowed the honor. The first time around, in 2022, honorees also included two Latinos: Dr. Julieta García, former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville and civil right activist Raúl Yzaguirre.

On this occasion, the list includes personalities from all walks of life, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore, Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky and journalist Phil Donahue.

In a statement, the White House acknowledged the the honorees' merits to be on the list:

"These nineteen Americans built teams, coalitions, movements, organizations, and businesses that shaped America for the better. They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields. They consistently demonstrated over their careers the power of community, hard work, and service."

Ellen Ochoa was born in Los Angeles, California. The granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, she became the first Latina to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. After retirement, she continued to pile up distinctions, becoming the director of the Johnson Space Center, the first Latino director and second female director of the institution.

Ochoa has received many awards, among which are NASA's Distinguished Service Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal and Space Flight Medals, besides being included in the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2017.

Teresa Romero was born into a large family of Spanish and indigenous Zapotec ancestry in Mexico before moving to the United States in her 20s and settling in California. After years of success running her own construction management consulting business, she took a temporary job as an assistant to the president of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) in 2008 before eventually landing the presidency of the institution in 2018, becoming the first Latina and immigrant woman to head a national labor union.

During her time with the UFW, the union achieved key victories in California, including the creation of state standards protecting farm workers from extreme heat and the first state law in the country securing overtime pay after eight hours of work. She has also made comprehensive immigration reform one of the union's top priorities as the farm industry relies heavily on the labor of undocumented immigrants, with the UFW estimating that at least half of farmworkers are undocumented.

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