Monday, March 7, 2016


   Thanks to my most aware activist friends I was introduced to the name of Emma Tenayuca, probably the least known of all the people I have profiled so far since I started on February 1.  I am embarrassed that I did not know who this amazing woman was and I certainly reflect the ignorance of Latino culture that pervades our white dominated society.  We are so lucky that this is changing, if slowly.
   Emma Tenayuca was a labor organizer, activist, and teacher who was born in 1916 and died in 1999.
"I was arrested a number of times. I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice."

   "Tenayuca, Emma (21 Dec. 1916-23 July 1999), labor organizer, community activist, school teacher, was born in San Antonio, Texas, the first daughter of eleven children born to Sam Tenayuca and Benita Hernandez Zepeda. Her parents had eleven children and to relieve their economic burden, the maternal grandparents raised some of the children, including Emma. Her grandfather worked as a carpenter and followed politics. Tenayuca developed an early understanding of transnational politics when, at age seven, she was taken to the Plaza del Zacate (the public square) on Sunday outings to listen to Magonistas, anarchosyndicalists who sought to address the issues of relevance to working-class families on both sides of the border. While a student at Brackenridge High School in Depression-era San Antonio, she joined a group that read the works of Karl Marx and Leo Tolstoy and discussed the vulnerabilities of the free-enterprise system."

   "Influenced by the causes of the Mexican Revolution, and Texas gubernatorial candidate Ma Ferguson's position against the Ku Klux Klan, Tenayuca's work for labor issues and civil rights predated Cesar Chavez and the Civil Rights movement.

   "She founded two International Ladies' Garment Workers Unions, and organized strikes against San Antonio's large pecan shelling industry.

   "Tenayuca worked as an organizer and activist for the Workers Alliance of America and Women's League for Peace and Freedom. She lobbied the mayor of San Antonio to improve relief distribution for unemployed workers during the Great Depression.

   "In 1937 she organized protests of the beating of migrants by US Border Patrol agents."

   "Like many artists and activists (including Frida Kahlo and Woody Guthrie) who were concerned about poor workers as industries grew powerful, Tenayuca joined the Communist Party in 1937. She was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Communist Party in 1939, when organized opposition rioted at San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium. She received death threats and was blacklisted in San Antonio. She briefly relocated to Houston before moving to San Francisco, California to pursue a degree in education."

   "Throughout her life, Tenayuca was a vocal advocate for free speech and workers' rights, and a critic of many government policies. She was a dedicated student of political issues and processes. She expressed her belief in greater economic equality for citizens over expensive government relief programs."

   Please read more about this amazing fighter for justice -- a true UNSUNG HERO of United States History who suffered, was jailed, had to move completely away from her home and change careers. But she never gave up the struggle for fair economic rights for working people.

Quotations :
"It was a combination of being a Texan, being a Mexican, and being more Indian than Spanish that propelled me to take action. I don’t think I ever thought in terms of fear."

"It’s the women who have led. I just have a feeling, a very strong feeling, that if ever this world is civilized, it would be more the work of women."


That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/¡No Es Justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia By Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Tenayuca, Celina Marroquin. 2008. 40 pages.
Bilingual (Spanish and English).
Biography for upper elementary of labor activist Emma Tenayuca.
Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944, 20th Century | Themes: Labor, Latino, Organizing, Women's History | Reading Levels: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8 | Resource Types: Books: Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Spanish/Bilingual

More links:

Wikipedia -
Americans Who Tell the Truth -
American National Biography Online - 
Latinopia - 
Houston Institute for Culture -
Welcome to the Machine - SAAAL Blog - 
Zinn Education Project - 
Great Texas Women - 
University of Texas Austin Audio Recording of -   
CPUSA Biography of - 

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