During this year’s Women’s History Month, I want to highlight two Texas women that have inspired me throughout my career. I have worked to carry their legacy forward — as an immigrant rights lawyer, a human rights advocate, a county judge, and our state party’s chairman.
Jovita Idar and Emma Tenayuca both dedicated themselves to making the lives of those in their communities better. Making a difference in any way they could. They both sought to bring attention to and put an end to the heinous conditions Mexican Americans faced and give them a voice to tell their stories.
Jovita got her start in journalism working for her father’s newspaper “La Cronica” in Laredo, Texas. Continuing her father’s legacy, Jovita would use the family’s newspaper to raise awareness about the difficulties Mexican Americans were facing in South Texas during the Mexican Revolution. She worked tirelessly to shine a light on the dire economic conditions, lack of access to education, racial discrimination, violence, and loss of the Spanish language that became commonplace in lives of countless Mexican American communities.
Because of her important work, Jovita was chosen to be the first president of the League of Mexican Women. There, she gave Mexican children free access to education, advocated for civil rights protections for Hispanic Americans and immigrants, promoted bilingual education, and championed labor organizing.
Emma Tenayuca was one of our state’s original lions of labor. She organized countless historic demonstrations like the San Antonio Pecan Shellers Strike of 1938 — which resulted in wage increases and better working conditions for nearly 12,000 workers.
Emma and Jovita’s leadership came at a time when Mexican Americans were ostracized from communities across our state and our country. As millions of families immigrated to the United States in search of our country’s promise of freedom and opportunity, they were met with harsh discrimination, from ordinary people as well as the federal government. They were shut out of benefits from the New Deal and deported in order to save jobs for “real Americans.” Emma and Jovita’s fighting spirit allowed for my family and countless other families just like mine to find a place in this country.
Icons like Jovita Idar and Emma Tenayuca have inspired hundreds of Latinas in our state who now serve on a local, state, and federal level. Latinas have been and continue to be at the forefront of our Democratic movement. From our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing fights for reproductive and voting rights, Latinas are leading the way. Jovita and Emma’s work paved the way for future generations of Latinas carry on their legacy.