Each year, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) by recognizing the cultures, histories and contributions of citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. This observation began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson as Hispanic Heritage Week and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1980 to cover a whole month (and was enacted into law on August 17th, 1988). There are several dates within Hispanic Heritage Month that are significant because they celebrate anniversaries of independence in several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Honduras. Columbus Day or Día de la Raza is October 12th, which falls within Hispanic Heritage Month.
To help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we will be highlighting famous Hispanics with disabilities from across the cultural spectrum including art, science, medicine, politics, and other fields. Today we highlight the lives of Rita Hayworth and Frida Kahlo, two extra-ordinary Latino women with disabilities in the arts.
On October 17th, 1918, legendary Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth was born in New York as Margarita Carmen Cansino. She was born to Spanish-born Eduardo Cansino, a dancer, and to Volga, a Ziegfeld Follies girl. Rita was trained as a dancer, and was dancing professionally by the age of 12 in the nightclubs in the US and Mexico. She catapulted into fame in the 1940’s and 1950’s with such movies as Strawberry Blonde and You’ll Never get Rich. Her most famous role was in the 1946 film Gilda where she co-starred with Glenn Ford. By the early 1970’s, Ms. Hayworth’s career began to draw to a close as it became apparent that she was not able to memorize her lines. Ms. Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1980. Her daughter, Princess Yasmin Khan, used her mother’s condition as a catalyst to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease and, in 1985, helped organize Alzheimer’s Disease International (of which she would eventually become president). Upon hearing of Ms. Hayworth’s death in May of 1987, President Reagan (who was later also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease) was quoted as saying, “Rita Hayworth was one of our country’s most beloved stars. Glamorous and talented, she gave us many wonderful moments on the stage and screen and delighted audiences from the time she was a young girl. Nancy and I are saddened by Rita’s death. She was a friend whom we will miss.”
Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Claderón (better known as Frida Kahlo) was born on July 6th, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico. While she is best known for her self-portraits, all her work is celebrated in Mexico as being emblematic of national and indigenous tradition. Her work has often been characterized as Naïve Art or folk art, but has often been described as surrealist. Frida was one of four daughters born to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a Spanish-Mexican Indian mother. Frida entered a pre-med program in Mexico City, DF after having survived polio as a child. At the age of 18, she was in a bus accident where she received fractures to her spine, collarbone, and ribs, a shattered pelvis, and shoulder and foot injuries. She would endure more than 30 surgeries throughout her life time as a result of this accident, and it was during her initial convalescence that she learned to paint (One of her most famous paintings is a 1944 self-portrait split down the middle revealing her spine as a shattered decorative column while wearing a surgical brace). Frida produced 143 paintings, 55 of which were self-portraits. She also produced drawings and sketches – all of which were related to her life experiences, including her physical and emotional pain and her turbulent relationship with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera. In 1939, Frida went to Paris to live and paint. During her stay, she developed friendships with such artists as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. In July 1954, Frida passed away at the age of 47 of a pulmonary embolism. Over half a century after Frida Kahlo’s death, her artwork fetches more money than any other female artist. In the 1970’s, one finds a renewed interest in Frida’s work, which was viewed as an icon of female creativity at that time. In 1983, A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera was released. And in 2002, Selma Hayek starred in Frida, a biographical movie about Frida’s life. Although Frida lived to be only 47, her work continues to influence artists around the world.