Latino Heritage Month 2020 kicks off with most of us still under shelter-in-place or limited opening regulations. For this reason, it seems appropriate for Pa’delante’s first honoree be a person from the health field.
Pa’delante is proud to honor Lupe Hernandez, the legendary inventor of hand sanitizer. This invention identified a way to combine a disinfecting alcohol solution in gel form. In so doing, people were able to clean their hands when they didn’t have access to soap and water.
Why is Lupe Hernandez considered legendary? It has been said and written that Lupe invented hand sanitizer while attending nursing school in Bakersfield in 1966. The story goes that Lupe saw an invention hotline on television and called to initiate a patent for the hand sanitizer. That there have been no patents bearing Lupe’s name, nor has there been a single interview with Lupe has led many to dispute whether this is true or false.
In true legendary form, Lupe’s story has evolved over the decades. This is the stuff of which corridos are written. Some say Lupe Hernandez, originally assumed to be a woman, was actually a man. In response to those who question Hernandez’ omission from patent applications, Lupe’s followers suggest that hand sanitizer was used in the latter half of the 1900’s even though GOJO Industries didn’t release their Purell Hand Sanitizer until 1988. Moreover, some suggest Lupe’s invention was stolen or, at the very least, usurped without acknowledging Hernandez’ role in inventing the product.
Admittedly, various historians and reporters have unsuccessfully tracked down the infamous Lupe Hernandez. The story of Lupe Hernandez has gained international acclaim, attracting journalists from as far as Russia. Some have dismissed suggestions that Lupe, who likely had no power, was simply cast aside and ignored by more powerful corporate interests. In truth, no one knows for sure. Nevertheless, the story of Lupe’s invention has become so entrenched in medical culture that Lupe’s contribution is noted in various nursing textbooks.
Over the years, countless Latinx nursing students have celebrated Lupe Hernandez. Lupe’s presence in the world of nursing has inspired and empowered their educational journey. Today, as we face a pandemic that ebbs or spreads depending on how well we mask, socially distance, and wash our hands, hand sanitizers receive more notice than ever before; as a result, this has re-ignited the legend of Lupe Hernandez all over again.
Keep in mind, if Pa'delante wanted to focus on verifiable Latino inventors, we could have chosen Luis Miramontes, the Mexican chemist of birth control pills or Argentinian surgeon Domingo Liotta, the inventor of the artificial heart. There are many who have made amazing contributions to the world of medicine.
However, Lupe Hernandez represents more than a single invention. We at Pa’delante don’t need to verify or confirm the story of Lupe Hernandez. It may be myth, folklore, truth-adjacent, or completely true. Here's why:
Today we kick off Latino Heritage Month. We celebrate Lupe Hernandez as symbolic of the millions of unrecognized Latinos who have always had to invent ways to survive, raise our families, and build our communities. Lupe symbolizes the ways our families, in the harshest of times, continue to stretch the food budget when money is low, create new games for their children when they can’t go to school, and devise how a high school senior will afford college.
This is the true value of Latino Heritage Month. We celebrate this month to recognize those who often go unrecognized and unsung. Fame, press documentation, and the presence of a patent does not define individual or community ingenuity or inventiveness.
The DNA of Lupe Hernandez, however, mythical or actual the person may be, runs through all of us. This month, we can all be celebrated.