This month, Latina magazine celebrates it’s Quinceañera. And there is much to celebrate.

The magazine was founded by Christy Haubeggar in 1996, upon her graduation from Stanford Law School. The idea was born in one of her business courses, where she developed a business plan for a groundbreaking publication: a magazine that would feature the lifestyle, entertainment, beauty, fashion, and empowerment of Hispanic women.

At the time, this was revolutionary.

It started out as a quarterly publication, with a then little-known star as the cover girl—Jennifer Lopez. Within a year, the magazine grew from a quarterly to a monthly publication, as a ballooning readership proved that there was indeed a demand for media aimed at the Latina market. Fifteen years later, the demand is bigger and bolder than ever. And Jennifer Lopez seems to be doing alright, too.

In Latina’s historic October issue, 15 kick-ass Latinas are featured in a three-page foldout cover: Shakira, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Zoe Saldana, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Daisy Fuentes, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, Ana de la Reguera, Natalie Morales, Rosie Perez and La La Anthony.

And all of them are rocking fabulous red dresses and fierce confidence, showing just why they made the list of “15 Latinas We Love.” Lest you ask why Ms. Lopez is not on the cover, Galina Espinoza, the magazine’s editorial director has already addressed the issue. She writes:

Now, before you start sending me hate mail, let me reiterate the overriding theme of this piece: that there is no Latina magazine without Jennifer, no recounting of modern Latina history without Jennifer, and no one who has more consistently represented Latinas than Jennifer. But what was exciting to me and my staff when we started to brainstorm ideas for our 15th anniversary cover, is that—while Jennifer might have kicked in Hollywood’s door 15 years ago, and has continued kicking in other doors ever since—there has been, at the same time, an incredible group of Latinas going full speed ahead right there along with her.

Lopez is featured in a retrospective piece inside the magazine.

The pages of this collector’s edition issue came to life this weekend, September 17-18, as ABC aired an hour-long special titled, Access Hollywood & Latina Magazine present 15 Latinas We Love. It was hosted by one of the cover-girls, Natalie Morales, news anchor and co-host of NBC’s Today Show and featured exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage, including the making of the cover and interviews with each of the women.

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Latina-Magazine-Quinceanera-15-Big-Name-Celebs-Attend-the-Party-Photo2In addition to seeing the celebrities getting primped and photographed, we hear them speak about their rise to fame, their roots, and what it means to be Latina today. It is very much representative of the voice of Latina Magazine, which has always focused on where we come from as Latinas and where we are going.

We caught up with with Galina Espinoza to discuss just how far the magazine itself has come and where it is going.

Mamiverse: Looking back over 15 years of Latina, what strikes you the most about where the magazine began and where it is now?
Espinoza: You can see how far we have come by looking at our October cover. When we were sitting down and thinking about who made sense to put on this cover, what struck us is that for the first time in history there were so many women who could have been the face of this cover. That shows how far we have come. That didn’t exist 15 years ago. It didn’t exist five years ago. We realized it’s not about one woman. It’s about all of these women and how Latinas are impacting American culture from every angle. From teenager Selena Gomez to the legendary Gloria Estefan who has reinvented herself time and again.

Mamiverse: Your readership is 3.5 million strong, what do you think sets Latina apart at a time when some magazines are folding?
Espinoza: I think that one of the keys is that we are no longer just a magazine company. Today, we not only have a magazine. We have, our social media presence, we have this television special. And we just launched a new initiative called “Latina Insights,” which is a marketing services firm that helps companies understand our audience.

We are the only ones who can claim a 15-year track record to an acculturated audience. Christy was really a visionary. She was the one who said, it has to target this specific audience. When we started out, the magazine was bilingual; every article was in Spanish and English. Then only some of the articles were in Spanish. Then we had summaries of the articles in Spanish. Four years ago we went entirely to English. This is a great case study for how the Latina population has evolved. Fifteen years ago, the Latino population was primarily made up of first generation immigrants; now, the second and third generation of Latinos are the driving force. The statistic I always point to is that today, one out of every four children being born in the U.S. is Latino. It is births driving our population growth, not immigration. And while these children may be learning Spanish, they are definitely speaking English as their first language.

Mamiverse: What is your vision for the future of Latina?
Espinoza: What is so exciting is that there has never been greater opportunity or possibilities. An entertainment show has never done a special like this. For me, Access Hollywood choosing to do things like this is the beginning. I think we are going to be more of a presence, more of a force. My phone has never been so busy with people calling and telling me, “I really care about your audience. Help us reach them.”

Being part of Latina magazine’s history has forever bonded many of the women (and a few men) who worked there. Today, there’s even a “The Latinistas: Latina Magazine Alumni” Facebook group. It helps keep the group connected and it gives them a place to reminisce, share photos from 15 years of Latina’s history and even plan reunions.

Women who worked at Latina magazine when it was a fledgling startup still have an affinity for the publication and speak fondly of their experiences.

“There was definitely a sense that you were part of something new and fresh, something that had never been done before, and there was a lot of pride in that, as well as a sense of responsibility,” said Sylvia Martinez, who served as Latina’s third Editor in Chief from 1999-2003, now Vice President & Digital Content Director of Mamiverse. “Many of the women who worked at Latina described it as a calling, and I was certainly no different. I was proud to join a magazine that was not only giving up-and-coming and little known actresses a chance to be cover girls, but also recognizing ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

“But one of the most important things the publication did was serve as a mirror to the millions of Latinas who didn’t see women who looked like us—in all of our various hues, sizes and shapes, as exemplified on the current 15-year-anniversary cover—portrayed in mainstream media,” Martinez added.

She emphasized that at the time, there were no other niche publications targeting the acculturated Latina market. “In many ways, Latina was ahead of it’s time, so it’s an honor to have played a small part in her development, and it’s wonderful to see her become a beautiful quinceañera.”

Sandra Guzman, who served as the magazine’s second Editor in Chief from 1997 to 1999 and helped hire Martinez at Latina, said: “I started editing Latina when the magazine was two years old, while it was still young, it was no longer a novelty and needed some sweet and focused attention, much like toddlers do,” Sandra Guzman recalls fondly. “It was an exhilarating time filled with purpose and promise.”

Guzman says that out of that energy she created the Dolores Dice advice column. “In a sweet way, the magazine’s transformation is akin to what the character has experienced–from sporting a moño (bun) to letting her hair down, loose and free—Dolores Dice has grown and so have we,” Guzman said. “The beloved advice column has been a metaphor for how the Latina community continues to evolve. Imagine my pride to have come back to the magazine more than a decade later to pen a cover story about my friend, and the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor! We’ve come a long way, Latinas in the USA, and have much more to go, and how sweet that this precious magazine has been there along the journey to be that good sister-friend who provides loving wisdom and great content about all things woman! Happy 15th Birthday Latina and many, many more.”