Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with People CHICA's LatinXcellence series, spotlighting the incredible people who have changed the world through their work and activism. Today we focus on top model Joan Smalls, who is bringing diversity to the fashion world and using her fame to fight racial injustice.

Por Lena Hansen
Octubre 14, 2020
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Here at People CHICA we celebrate our Latinidad 365 days a year, but during Hispanic Heritage Month, we go extra hard. Established in 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month (also known as Latino Heritage Month or Latinx Heritage Month) recognizes the generations of Latinos who have positively influenced and enhanced our society. All month long, we'll be celebrating with a series called #LatinXcellence, highlighting people who have made a difference in Latino culture through their art, work, and activism.

By becoming a queen of the runway, Joan Smalls — born and raised in Hatillo, Puerto Rico — showed other little girls who looked like her that they could make their wildest dreams come true. The top model became the face of Estée Lauder and has conquered catwalks, billboards, and magazine covers worldwide. The proud Afro-Latina and puertorriqueña, 35, has brought diversity to the fashion world, representing powerhouse brands like Givenchy, Chanel, Gucci, Fendi, and Tom Ford. "I usually don't think of the things I've done but of the things I want to keep doing, and that's what keeps me wishing for more and allows me to continue being successful," she told People en Español

(David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Renell Medrano & WeTransfer)

At age 19, Joan left her beloved island and ventured to New York City, where she stayed with an aunt while attending endless modeling castings. Her efforts paid off. In 2018, Forbes ranked her as one of the world's highest-paid models. Fame and fortune did not change her humble spirit and she felt the need to give back.

(Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Besides supporting various charities, the stunning beauty is using her social media platform to raise awareness about important social issues. Besides supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality, Smalls joined the Innocence Project in advocating for reform of the criminal justice system. She also encourages her over 3 million Instagram followers to make their votes count in the upcoming presidential election.

On #BlackOutTuesday on June 2, she posted a powerful video on Instagram that went beyond just sharing a black square. "Is it just another trend?" she asked, referencing the movement in 2020 to denounce racial injustice and calling for real change within the fashion industry, like contributing monetarily to minority communities and implementing policies to further racial inclusivity. "This industry that profits from our Black and brown bodies, our culture for constant inspiration, our music, and our images for their visuals, has tiptoed around the issues. ... It's now time to give us a real seat at the table. Because we are worthy. Because we are talented. Because we are unique. I stand by my words — I live them as a Black and Latina woman."