Latina Heroes: Painted Peg Dolls

Latina Heroes: Painted peg dolls in honor of Women's History Month.

I wanted to create dolls that were an example of strong women in the Latina community so my daughters could identify with them and be inspired.

I’ve been going a little loca over these teeny tiny peg dolls lately.

After Googling a few key words, I came across a really adorable set of peg dolls painted in the likeness of every Disney princess you can imagine–Belle, Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, Jasmine, etc. They didn’t have faces but their gowns were so recognizable, I could immediately name each princess.

Wow, they are so adorable! I need to make a set for Maya and Xixi, I thought to myself.

But upon further contemplation, I decided that my daughters have had enough of princesses. They are now eight and ten years old. The princess phase is behind us–they are practically young women! Instead, I wanted to give them the gift of knowledge and power by introducing them to real, tangible females they could admire and emulate.

This is what inspired me to create this series of hand-painted peg dolls called Latina Heroes.

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Just in time for Women’s History Month, I wanted to create dolls that were an example of strong women so my daughters could identify with them and be inspired. They need to know there is more to life as a woman than just being pretty, sexy and waiting on the perfect man to satisfy all of their needs and complete them.

So I began to meditate on examples of strong Latina women–women who were brave enough to be themselves, to do what they loved to do in a culture that is unlike their own. Women who were fearless and in being so, became a pioneer and an icon. It was important that these women were women of color. Growing up, I was starved for examples of powerful Latina women. Beyond my own family–my Nana and my mother–I did not know there were women who were artists, dancers, musicians, businesswomen, or activists who were Latina until I was in college.

I didn’t want my daughters to wait that long.

Latina Heroes

Bidi bidi bom bom.

Selena Quintanilla, simply well-known as Selena, is beloved by many who knew her as “Queen of Tejano” music. As a Mexican-American, Selena represents the All-American girl with a big dream–one that she was certainly on the road to achieve before her untimely death at the age of 23.

My girls loved the fact that Selena sang at a very young age and was in band with her brother and sister.  Together, we listened to her music, saw a few clips from the movie Selena and watched her last performance at the Houston Astrodome. At that point,  I knew my Selena doll would have to be wearing that famous disco-inspired purple outfit she performed in–glitter and all.


Civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, Delores Huerta tirelessly fought for better working conditions for migrant workers, who often slept in shacks with dirt floors and worked in fields without drinking water and restrooms. My father’s family used to work in the fertile valley of Northern California, and he has memories of working in the fields at a very young age, so this fight holds a special place in my heart. Huerta is now 83 years old and has lived a long life of working to correct social and economic injustices.

In 2012, President Obama bestowed Dolores with the most prestigious award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Amazing. I made sure to include the United Farm Workers emblem on the peg doll’s chest because to me, it is synonymous with equality.


Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad, also known as Celia Cruz, was one of the most influential salsa artists in the 20th century. Born in Cuba, Celia Cruz is la Reina de la salsa because of her distinct voice, her impeccable rhythm and thunderous stage presence. Through her extravagant costumes, she often transformed herself on stage, and I really wanted to capture this. I had fun creating the necklace, the sparkly gown and her blue hair. Together with Xixi and Maya, we listened to the song “Quimbara” on repeat.

And last but certainly not least, my muse for the past twenty years.

No list or group of Latinas would be complete without the presence of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. A gifted painter, Frida is able to communicate such a depth of feeling through her works of art that I am usually in tears whenever I get to see one in person. It would be an understatement to say I am slightly obsessed with la Friducha. My daughters have been raised in a home where Frida hangs on almost every wall–there are Frida books on the bookshelf, Frida magnets on the fridge and Xixi even dressed up as Frida a few Halloweens ago. We’ve been to countless museums and art shows were Frida is celebrated. Needless to say, my girls know who Frida is and I think it’s safe to say they love her too.

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I loved painting her likeness on this little peg doll. They only stand a mere two inches high, but Frida’s style was so original and distinct, it might as well be ten feet tall. I had to include one of her signature Tehuana-style dresses, her indigenous jewelry, the flowers in her hair and of course, her eyebrows.

This was incredibly cathartic for me. I have a passion to inspire my kids to do something incredible with their lives. It’s not easy when you are bogged down by everyday life–you can’t motivate them to do something revolutionary while you are nagging them about laundry duties. Still, I knew if I could create something that was of interest to them–who doesn’t love teeny tiny dolls–they would take the ball and run with it, learning all they could about the people who mama painted on little dolls for them. And they have.

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I want my daughters to know that wherever they are headed in life, if what they do is rooted in love…there is much power there. Creating these dolls of Latina heroes is pointing them in the right direction.

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I hope you love these dolls as much as we do!

Latina Heroes: Painted Peg Dolls

Coming to So Cal: Frida Kahlo, Her Photos at MOLAA

Latina Heroes: Painted Peg Dolls

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There are 25 comments

  1. tm

    These are wonderful! I am so impressed and what great items to have to inspire young girls.

  2. Suheiry F.

    These are beautiful! Better than any I’ve seen for sale. Have you considered making them to sell them on Etsy?

    1. Denise Cortes

      I have considered it! I eventually plan on selling them–very soon. You will be one of the first to know when I do! xoxo

  3. Yolanda Estrada Muñoz

    These are so awesome! I also admire Frida Kahlo greatly. She was/is ahead of her times, a true inspiration still! Thank you for sharing…you are very creative!

  4. Anonymous

    These are lovely! Please let me know if they are for sale. I’d buy them in a heartbeat!!

  5. Betsy

    Beautiful. Colorful. Adorable. Where do you get the wooden dolls? My daughters would love to something like this. Love Frida’s unibrow.

  6. andrea

    Omg, these are awesome and I totally want to buy these! It’s always important for little girls to have role models that look like them!

  7. Jae Esse

    I like this idea! I’m wondering if you’ll add more Latina Hero dolls from other parts of Latin America/Caribbean heritage, like trailblazing entertainer Rita Moreno, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor,or Political Leader Evita, for example?

  8. Keilah Villarreal

    I would LOVE the whole set of these!!! When will they be for sale? I’m ready!

  9. alfienumeric

    I knew exactly who they are without reading the descriptions! I love them!

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