On Sunday August 20, a memorable event took place at the Women’s Museum of California. It was publicized as a book signing of the recently released Chicana Tributes: Activist Women of the Civil Rights Movement, but in reality, it was an ebullient celebration. The book documents the work of sixty-one women who were fearless and committed trailblazers in the Chicano civil rights movement in the late twentieth century and beyond. A number of those women were and still are deeply connected to San Diego’s own history of that movement.
There were about a hundred and fifty women in the not so very large space at the Women’s Museum. Some sat in chairs while others of us stood for the two hours. The energy in the room was phenomenal. The age of these women ranged from children to eighty-eight year old Irene Mena, who is one of the women recognized in this book. The book editors, Mesa College Department of Chicana/o Studies Professors Rita Sanchez and Sonia Lopez were also there for the book signing.
Some of the women in the room were daughters who had written about their own mothers who were included in the book, women like Marisol Quevedo Reuch, Adelina Perla Lopez, and Maite and Evita Valladolid who beamed with pride at this recognition that their moms had received. Not one of the daughters complained about the time their mothers spent away from them because of their involvement. On the contrary, most of the women thanked other women in the room for being part of their lives. Maite and Evita spoke of the contribution their mom has made but also referred to her as “incredible” for her involvement as well as for being a soccer mom.
Marisol Quevedo Reucha gave an emotional speech about the accomplishments of her mother Irma Castro. Her mother was the second woman to be the executive director of the Chicano Federation in a very turbulent time but also a time when great change came to Chicanos in San Diego. Of special importance was the recognition Marisol gave her aunt Yoli and her step-mom Nancy for helping her to become the woman she is today. You read Irma’s chapter not only to learn about her, but to learn about a large portion of the history of the Chicano Federation.
Irene Mena’s daughter Adelina Perla Lopez beamed as her mother spoke about her involvement with the Brown Berets. Irene is known as the grandmother of the Brown Berets and spoke with great pride about her family’s involvement. In the book Adelina refers to herself as a Chicano Park baby. This is very true; everyone remembers her running around Chicano Park as a little girl of probably two.
Irene came to this event wearing her familiar brown beret but dressed in a very special way, showing all of us how important this event was to her. In the book Irene is quoted as saying “Nothing was ever given to us. We had to fight for it”. Irene also recognizes that it was a collective of people who made the Chicano movement. Read this book and learn about the Brown Berets in San Diego and the power of organizing.
Some of the daughters were not present but as you read the book you will know and feel the pride they had for their mothers. Christine Clausener, the late Charlotte Hernandez’s daughter wrote about the singer composer, muralist, activist and the first Latina to be invited to perform professionally at the Ford Theater in Washington DC. In addition to the beautiful memories Christine has of her mother, she was able to bring out that wonderful sense of humor her mother had.
Enriqueta Chavez attended this event with her husband Gus. Juanita, their daughter, lives out of town and was unable to attend this event. Juanita captures the involvement of a young Chicana student from Calexico that became an activist at SDSU. She was part of the leadership of MEChA in the early days and to read her story is to learn not only about MEChA but about the Chicana movement. Juanita tells how she was in awe of her mother’s ability to balance being an active Chicana and her career as a counselor at Sweetwater High School. Read her story and learn about the joy and pride a non-traditional mom contributed to the history of Chicanas.
Another person written about in this wonderful book is Beatrice Zamora-Aguilar. Bea has been a counselor and Dean of Counseling and Student Services at Mesa and Southwestern College. She is also the co-leader of the Danza Mexicayotl. Her story is written in this book. Especially interesting is the role that danza has played in her life and her belief that danza has contributed to the Chicano movement and learning about our roots. To learn more about cultural pride and the indigenous culture read Bea’s story.
Friends also wrote about the women in this book. Adela Garcia wrote about the first Latina President of Southwestern College, Norma Hernandez. Norma’s early years were spent in Tijuana and as a teenager she came to San Diego. Norma became involved in the Chicano movement in the early 1970s and was involved in many projects and activities such as la escuelita del barrio where she taught ESL, the Barrio Station and establishing a MEChA at Lincoln High School.
Norma is still advocating for social justice. To learn about her road to activism and her many accomplishments read this book. Adela Garcia writes this story through the eyes of a well- respected Chicana activist.
Another first for Chicanas is the story of Mary Salas the mayor of Chula Vista and the first Latina/o mayor elected in San Diego County. Mary attended this celebration and spoke of some of the obstacles she has had to face.
Mary was born and raised in Chula Vista and has seen the change that has occurred in this city. At Harborside School she was the only Mexican student in the class. Her college life began as a divorced mother who became very involved in MANA, an organization that mentors young Latinas. In 2010, she was elected to the 79th assembly. As you read Mary’s story you will feel great pride at her achievements and her road to success.
As I read her story I had two very strong emotions: the obvious one was pride at having a Latina mayor and secondly, the anger that we have had to wait until 2014 to have a Latina mayor anywhere in San Diego County. For those who think running for office today would be a trip down easy street, read Mary’s story.
Gloria Serrano Medina was the first affirmative action officer for the San Diego County. This was an era where Latinos were underrepresented in the pool of county workers. She was a founding member of the Barrio Station and had served on the board of the Chicano Federation for many years. If you are a county employee and think your job was built on your own merit, read this book and learn about the struggles that were fought to open those doors for you. After her retirement Gloria worked for the Census Bureau and the Country Register of Voters. These two employments have enabled her to help Chicanos advance.
Other firsts are Denise Ducheny and Maria Nieto, who were elected to the Community College Board of Trustees.
Denise Ducheny became the first Latina elected the California State Legislature. In 2006, she became the first Latina to chair the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review. Denise has been an advocate for women. She has also lead the reform from welfare to education. Another one of her major interests has been in the relations between the U.S. and Mexico.
Maria Nieto’s story is written by her daughter Andrea Aragoza. Andrea writes very frankly about her mother’s difficult journey and her responsibilities when Maria was growing up with a mother who was bipolar. Her work in teaching in the Community Based Block (CBB) is well respected in our community. The uniqueness of the program was its focus on multicultural counseling. Andrea also see her growing up years as a “unique privilege” having had the opportunity to listen to group discussion on racism, sexism and various counseling theories. Mental health is often a hidden problem in our community and reading Maria’s story helps us understand the importance of recognizing this illness.
Another woman featured in this book is Maria Zuniga. Of special significance is that Maria was the second Chicana to receive a PhD. in social work. Considering our community’s need for social workers they are once again a shocking deficiency. She describes herself as a shy young Chicana who evolved as an activist.
In the middle of very turbulent times and while working toward her Masters at Berkeley, Maria and three other students decided to meet with the provost to discuss scholarships to recruit Latinos into social work. On the way to the meeting they were met with tear gas but continued to their meeting. Maria says this experience taught her the importance of taking risks.
Her teaching focus has been on cultural diversity. This has been made especially difficult at times because many educators have not valued cultural diversity. For those who do not see themselves as risk takers read this story and learn about the value of being one.
Carmen E. Quintana writes about her friend Linda Legerrette who is the co- founder of the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs. Linda is known for her work for social justice. Her mentors have been Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Sol Price. While in college Linda and Carlos, her husband of 50 years, became involved with Cesar Chavez and the grape strike. In the late 60s they moved to Delano to support Cesar and the strike. After working in Delano, they returned to San Diego to lead many social justice and political activities in San Diego.
Linda says of her success of achieving assignments given by Cesar was simply that when Cesar gave an assignment you did it because you did not want to let him down. After Cesar’s death Linda and Carlos formed the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs. The club has ten values which are present and practiced in Linda’s everyday life. To learn more about these values, read the chapter on Linda.
Rosalia Salinas is known for her work and support for bilingual education. For those who have supported, taught, or care about bilingual education, this chapter is a must read. Rosalia is a Texas transplant who worked at Lincoln High School supporting students who needed ESL instruction as well as learn about their own cultural experiences. She also formed Project Step that was to encourage underrepresented minority groups to develop leadership skills. She has not been afraid to speak up for student and parent rights.
Rosalia recognizes that leading an effort to institutionalize bilingual education has been a monumental task. After the passage of Proposition 227 Rosalia worked to help teachers function within its parameters. For those who are not aware of the struggle to maintain and develop bilingual, biliteracy program, read the chapter about Rosalia.
The first chapter of the book focuses on women who have passed. At this event, the names of these women were read and the word “presente,” a term used to honor the dead, was said after each name.
These women contributed to Chicana history in San Diego and have shaped the trajectory of our own lives. Tina C. de Baca, a community activist’s story was written by her daughter Dolores C. de Baca. Like other stories written by their daughters it reflects the pride she feels towards her mother. Others include Laura Rodríguez, The Matriarch of Chicano Park, written by Maria Garcia; Faustina Solis, UCSD Provost, Pioneer in Public Health by Jade Griffin; Marta Sotomayor, founder National Hispanic Council of Ageing by Ana Marie Puente. All four of these women are “presente” in the lives of Chicanas in San Diego. If you want to know San Diego history read this book.
Most of the women in this book are over age sixty, which is one reason I recommend this book. For those readers under sixty it offers the opportunity to learn about the roles Chicanas played in the fight for social justice and civil rights. These sixty-one women are not the only ones who should be recognized, as both authors stated at this event. It is one more step in documenting the role of Chicanas as history makers.
The last two chapters of the book deal with the future. The women in these chapters are public service workers and scholars. We are offered a look into the diversity of these modern women. They are lawyers, executive directors, supporters of immigrant rights and probably up and coming political office holders. Their achievements will once again contribute to the betterment of Chicanas in particular and our country in general. They have more confidence than we once had. They have mentored and have been mentored. They are our future.
I highly recommend this book for many reasons. Two very important reasons are to teach our history and to pique our interest in learning more about Chicanas. Reading this book not only gives us information but also gives us pride. It shows our diverse interests and creative talents: artists, musicians, educators, political figures, singers, dancers, attorneys and so many more professions. The diversity of Chicanas is seen in every story.
Middle schools and above should rush to make this book a part of their libraries, not only in “barrio” schools but in every school in this city.
Rita Sanchez and Sonia Lopez are the editors of this book. Rita became involved as a divorced single mom attending college. Sonia became involved when she came to SDSU as a young Chicana from Calexico. They saw the value of having a book like this and took the time and energy to compile the sixty-one stories. Both women have a story that is included as a profile in this book.
You can not write about this book without mentioning its beautiful cover. The cover was designed and formatted by Duane McGregor and Lia Dearborn with pictures of multi-generational Chicanas.
At the book signing the editors received well deserved accolades for this history of amazing achievement.