In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Kennedy Political Union hosted an event featuring the former U.S. Treasurer, Rosie Rios. The event was moderated by Ernesto Castañeda-Tinoco, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and the AU Immigration Lab and was held in the School of International Service. During the event, audience members gained critical insight into the experiences and challenges that shaped Rios’ career and led her to where she is today.
From 43rd Treasurer of the United States to current co-host of the online investment reality show “Unicorn Hunters,” Rios has amassed several impressive titles throughout her career. However, despite the global impact and prestige of her work, Rios personally regards her beginnings in U.S. cities such as Oakland, California, where she played a role in planning the city’s economic and infrastructure development, as some of the most rewarding and exciting moments of her career. In fact, it was her first ever job as a library clerk in her hometown of Hayward, California where she says she gained the skills that earned her a spot at Harvard University.
It was also in Hayward where Rios learned to think of diverse cities, communities, and spaces as a cohesive way of being, rather than a “novelty.” Living in Hayward, Rios grew accustomed to practicing acceptance and inclusion when it came to identity, and because so many people she grew up with shared such similar lived experiences, it was only after leaving her hometown that Rios’ identities as a first-generation Mexican-American woman became most salient.
Two moments in particular, at two very distinct points in her career, made it clear to Rios that she was different than most of the people around her: her first time on Harvard University’s campus, when she realized “no one really [looked] like [her]” and during her time as U.S. Treasurer, when she heard “No one has ever brought it up” upon asking why there has never been a portrait of a historic woman on United States currency.
It was after that moment later in her career when Rios found her calling in uplifting those lost or frequently missing in the narrative of American history. In 2012, she would propose the program now known as the American Women Quarters Program, which would memorialize historic women on U.S. currency. After the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act was passed in 2020, Rios’ vision would become a reality and the U.S. Treasury would begin distributing the first quarter from the program, which depicted American poet Maya Angelou, in 2022.
For Rios, it was critical to highlight the many women of color who have made a difference in U.S. history through the program. Current editions of the quarter now depict composer Edith Kanaka’ole, actress Anna May Wong, and pilot Bessie Coleman, amongst many. For this reason, it was especially touching to hear Rios tell the story of Mexican-American journalist Jovita Tovar as she handed Moderator Castañeda a signed and sealed quarter with the engraved image of Tovar as a wrapping gift for the event. Equally a gift as it was a call to action, the exchange served as a reminder to seek out and tell the stories of those that often go untold this Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond.
Those interested in learning more about the American Women Quarters Program and other efforts to highlight the contributions of women in history can visit https://empowerment2026.org/