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Meet 4 Latino trailblazers breaking barriers and paving the way for others

In a conversation with TODAY, José Díaz-Balart, Ozzie Areu, Hélio Castroneves and Karla Gallardo share what Hispanic Heritage Month means to them, their struggles and advice for the next generation.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the months of September and October. For more, head here.

From race car driving to the television news anchor desk, here are four Latino trailblazers who are paving the way in their fields:

José Díaz-Balart

In 2010, while serving as anchor on Telemundo, José Díaz-Balart made history when he filled in on MSNBC, making him the first journalist to broadcast in two languages on two networks simultaneously. In 2016, he became the first journalist to anchor in two languages on two separate networks when he took over on NBC Nightly News’ Sunday edition.

José Díaz-Balart broke barriers when he became the first journalist to broadcast in two languages on two networks simultaneously.MSNBC

Now, Díaz-Balart is making history again as he returns to MSNBC, this time as host of a daily morning news show. He’ll be the only U.S. journalist to anchor national news programs on cable and broadcast television in English and in Spanish.

“When I was starting 37 years ago in television, there wasn’t anybody like me," Díaz-Balart said. "Representation matters. We each have a responsibility to make a difference and to serve in any and every way that we can.”

Ozzie Areu

Ozzie Areu parlayed years of hard work as a celebrity personal assistant into becoming CEO of his own film and television studio, Areu Bros. Studios — the only Latino owned-and-operated one in the U.S. His story reads like a Hollywood movie, starting as a security guard at Warner Brothers, then becoming a personal assistant for some very high-profile stars, including Tyler Perry, who eventually promoted him to president of Tyler Perry Studios.

Ozzie's success is a combination of hard work and Tyler Perry giving him the opportunity.Getty Images

“Tyler championed me… [I] had a great career, learned almost everything I know from with him… and I promised myself that I would do everything I can to never let him down.” Now, as owner of his own studio, Areu is taking it to the next level by introducing cost effective cutting-edge technology that will help level the playing field for creatives and storytellers.

Karla Gallardo

Karla Gallardo left a lucrative banking job at Goldman Sachs to stake her claim in the highly competitive fashion industry by launching Cuyana. The company bases itself in a “fewer, better things” philosophy, which is derived from Gallardo’s experience growing up in Ecuador. “Everything we bought in my house was cared for…my dad would change the soles of his shoes. [He was] so proud that they were 20 years old. So you would just invest in the items you have and you loved them.”

Karla Gallardo left her banking job at Goldman Sachs to pursue her passion in the fashion industry and her choice has paid off.Cuyana

The company offers affordable luxury items including clothing and accessories but it’s their leather bags — and their star appeal like Meghan Markle, Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba — that put them on the map. Now, Gallardo is setting her sights on expanding Cuyana to a full lifestyle brand.

Hélio Castroneves

Earlier this year, auto racing driver Hélio Castroneves made history winning the Indy 500 for a record-tying fourth time, joining a very exclusive club of only three other drivers — and the only foreign-born to do it. “Obviously it’s a very competitive world out there but I wouldn’t be able to do it if this country didn’t open the door for me.”

Helio Castroneves celebrates after becoming the fourth driver in history to win the Indianapolis 500 auto race four times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2021 in Indianapolis.Jeff Dean / AFP via Getty Images

Now, Castroneves is looking for a record-breaking fifth win. “I still have a lot to go and a lot of fuel to burn inside me. Now is not the time to back off, now is the time to put in overdrive.”