Too often Hispanic women are not recognized nor honored. Especially those who made significant contributions to society, public policy, and economic evolutionary developments in several efforts to mitigate the impact of being a member of a marginalized community. Many of these women were overshadowed by the men in leadership roles which they fully supported. With their nurturing concepts they supported the leaders along with the entire membership of those movements.
Dolores Huerta is one such Latina whose advocacy efforts in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. resulted in enacted legislation which established retirement pension plans, health benefits, credit unions, and standards which defined safe working conditions in the fields wherein Campesinos toiled. A recent Dolores Huerta documentary reveals her continued focus upon organizing Latino communities in the San Fernando Valley.
Historic records reveal that Hernan Cortez, Spanish Conquistador, was assisted by an Aztec maid known as ‘La Malinche’. She was not given credit merited as she interpreted and explained communications between Aztec leaders (Moctezuma) and their Spanish adversaries. An insight is that Spanish conquistadores destroyed two indigenous societies (Aztec and Inca) with the assistance of small pox virus they introduced which ravaged the indigenous peoples to the extent that some 75% perished.
Who are the local women who made such contributions? I can recall only those I personally interacted with during my activism in Santa Clara County (and San Francisco Bay Area) which began during 1959.
During the 1970’s, I attended meetings of Mexican-American Unity Council, Redwood City, CA whose leader was Esther Talavera now residing in San Jose, CA with her son, Raymundo. Esther led the effort to establish ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe Community Health Center’ in the vacant Daly City Hall. Once she learned that I was a biochemist, she enlisted me in planning its clinical laboratory where blood chemistry and urinalysis tests were performed to enabled data-based diagnostics. Her strategy, which worked, was to deliver community health care services to a neglected Latino community which the local Sisters of Charity’s Seton Hospital were not addressing. That OLGCHC began to do that and eventually was absorbed by that local hospital. Esther was the first Latina activist I knew who attended CA’s State Democratic Conventions and was an advocate there who was focused on the need for jobs having living wages, affordable homes, and education/training for the Latino low income community. These very same public policy issues exist today.
Another Latina was Ernestina Garcia, leader of La Confederacion de la Raza Unida. At first, Ernestina distrusted me, as evidenced by her sharply worded question: “Why do you work over there when we need you here?” (Porque trabajas alli y no aqui?) Over time we became trusting friends. I became her ‘advisor’ regarding community health care services delivered at SCVMC whose mission was defined by public policy endorsed by the Board of Supervisors (BOS), County of Santa Clara. Ernestina asked the BOS to have SCVMC’s Emergency Room (ER) be governed by an ‘open-door policy’ (which is to first stabilize a patient; then inquire about insurances and ability to pay). Today, SCVMC’s ER and its Trauma Center are the only San Francisco Bay Area’s emergency services which continue to operate under this open-door policy.
When the City of San Jose gave up, during the 1980’s, its at large City Council elections and established its 10 districts, Blanca Alvarado competed with Anita Duarte to become the first Latina who represented SJ Council District 5. Blanca received the full support of EO whose publisher walked precincts. Some 30 years later, Blanca retired as a Supervisor representing SCCO District Two. Once in office, Blanca emphasis was advocacy for a fair share of civic services for San Jose’s East Side community by supporting the development of local youth centers, libraries, social and mental health services.
Recently, La Raza Historical Society recognized Blanca for her civic leadership. Blanca was the ‘tip of the spear’ which passed through traditional barriers enabling those who followed (such as Nora Campos). Today, Supervisor Cindy Chavez represents SCCO District 2 and Magdalena Carrasco is San Jose’s Vice Mayor and represents SJ’s District 5. In addition, the San Jose City Council has five elected Latino(a) officials seated on its 10-member City Council. In like manner, Guadalupe Arellano served on Gilroy’s City Council; Carmen Montano, Milpitas City Council, and Mt. View’s City Council has had Latina members.
For several terms, Dolores Marquez has served on the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and has been this school district’s board president.
Jessie Serna, Esq., a lawyer, represented a family whose child died (pneumonia) while in protective custody in Juvenile Hall during the 1980’s. In my professional role as Director of Planning, SCVMC, I became aware of this particulars case which ‘Abogada Serna’ guided through the court justice system all the way to the CA Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the family. Jessie Serna, Esq., another ‘tip of the spear’, deserves recognition as a Latina leader in this Santa Clara County Community.
During 1985-86 when President, Mexican American Chamber of Commerce (precursor of today’s HCCSV), I met Sofia Mendoza who conveyed the idea that MACC assist Mexican American families whose homes were being subjected to eminent domain seizure by the SJ Redevelopment Agency. That idea led to a $125,000 performance based contract for MACC. Previously Sofia had single-handedly advocated for prohibition of paddles which teachers used to discipline students at Roosevelt Elementary School (and many schools). SJSU’s Dr. Consuelo Rodriguez and Dr. Jose Carrasco were teachers when Sofia personally raided this school and emerged with all teachers’ paddles. Soon thereafter the district’s school board adapted its public policy prohibiting physical punishment as a disciplinary action.
Elena Robles taught many traditional culture & dances for more than 25 years (Los Lupenos Folklorico).
Many Latinas such as Cecelia Burciaga (Stanford University Provost officer, later at CSU, Monterey Bay); Esther Medina, President, MACSA; Hermalinda Sapiens, CEO, CET; Rose Amador, CEO, CTC; and Cecelia Arroyo, a SCCO employee…all acted upon civic issues.
Carmen Castellano supported many Latino efforts while employed at San Jose City College and later contributed the funds for an ‘Arts & Culture Center’ which is named in her honor.
Recently, Dr. Consuelo Rodriguez, SJSU; Marce Mora, SCCO Social Services Agency and Prof. Nannette Regua, Mexican American Studies, Evergreen Community College, were the Latinas contributing to the formation of ‘La Raza Historical Society of Santa Clara Valley’ (convened by Dr. Ramon J. Martinez; Fernando Zazueta, Esq., President).
Today, let’s encourage millennial Latinas to express interest in public policy which impacts all of us. A woman’s perspective is quite different from those of competitive male leaders. Women tend to be concerned about family, relationships, communication skills, and doing those things which enable extended family well-being and community safety and involvement.
Which Latina leaders do you remember? Help document their achievements in this community. Please send their name and contact information to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.