By Jamila Johnson and Yamily Habib
In 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City to demand shorter work hours, better pay and the right to vote, no one was ready to call it a movement. But a year later in 1909, on February 28th, National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States for the first time.
Across the ocean, during the 1910 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin was the first to propose that every year in every country there should be a day where women fight for their advancement.
Following the 1911 decision, International Women’s Day was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March.
The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day in 1975 and only six years later, congress passes a bill that moved to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week” and in 1987 March was officially declared Women’s History Month.
And though there is much to celebrate on both the statewide and international levels, often ignored are the Latinas who contributed to these movements.
Suffragettes, protesters, speakers and leaders – from Ana Roqué Géigel de Duprey and Luisa Capetillo in the late 1800s to Mariposa Fernández and Monica Carrillo in our current times – since the beginning of the 20th century, women have had to fight for their place in society as equal individuals, in front of a oppressive masculine society and a convenient feminine one.
In the late 1980s, women became more aware of the work-related inequities once they decided to join professional fields such as engineering, academics and politics.
The feminist battle was more necessary than ever and the opposition didn’t feel like pulling back. Domestic repression and public debunking were the order of the day, and fighting for your rights was a direct condemnation to the questioning of your sexual orientation.
With cultural representations, community organization and a wider public transformation of the meaning of the female figure, the new century seemed like a different era for gender equality and democracy.
But something changed in the past couple of years, and what we thought was already a victory, came back as a three-headed monster.
A new American administration, led by misogyny and archaic demagogy, urges a remembrance of what we’ve done and achieved. Truth, respect and democracy are terms that hold hands with a countrywide campaign to safeguard what took us so long to accomplish.
With protests raging across the city, we are sure to see female activists rise to the forefront of social movements across the country.
Through their tenacity, women have been able to surpass their struggles and fight for the justice and advancement for all.
Whether they are writers, organizers, or union leaders, the women we’ve chosen to highlight have dedicated their lives and work to advancing others.
From the 1800s to the present, these Latina warriors are pioneers we can look to as we honor women’s month
Ana Roqué Géigel de Duprey (1853-1933)
Born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Ana Roque Duprey was a teacher, author, publisher and active feminist.
She started “La Mujer,” the first magazine dedicated to women in Puerto Rico and other publications such as La Evolución and Álbum Puertorriqueno.
In addition to a impressive journalism career, Duprey was an author of both fiction and non-fiction, her most notable work being Puerto Rican Flora.
In 1917 she founded the Puerto Rican Feminist League, the first organization in Philadelphia dedicated to women’s rights. And by 1932 the first phase of women’s voting rights was implemented in Puerto Rico.
Luisa Capetillo (1879 –1922)
Luisa Capetillo did not have the traditional path many women around her had taken.
Having the first of her two children out of wedlock and working in a cigar factory, Capetillo was forced to live outside of gender norms.
Known for wearing pants in public and even being arrested for the “crime,” she continued to challenge the status quo through her identity and work.
After taking her position as a reader of novels and current events to tobacco workers, Capetillo’s essays and column were featured in labor and union newspapers throughout Puerto Rico. Later in life, she traveled throughout Puerto Rico educating and organizing women and labor unions.
Dolores Huerta (1930 to Present)
Having received a number of awards for her community service and advocacy for workers, immigrants, and women Dolores Huerta is a highly respected activist.
She’s received everything from the U.S. Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Most notable is Huerta’s work with César Chavez on the National Farm Worker’s Association and the United Farm Worker’s Organizing Committee. A seasoned lobbyist, she worked to get a bill passed that would allow California residents to take the driver’s license test in Spanish. As head of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues her work and service to the community.
Rocio Saenz (Present)
After moving to Los Angeles from Mexico, Saenz began working odd jobs for low wages. This gave her a direct look at what workers needs and in 1988 she became and organizer for SEIU’s Justice for Janitors.
Saenz then moved to Boston where she expanded the Justice for Janitors program and led Boston janitors on a month-long strike that garnered support from several leaders throughout the community. The strike ended in victory with one of the largest settlements on wages and benefits Boston has seen.
In 2013, Saenz was elected the Executive Vice President for SEIU International and is the first Latina to fill the position.
Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez (1925 – Present)
Born to a social activist and Georgetown University Professor of Spanish, Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez had a very strong background.
After graduating from Swathmore College, Martinez began work at the United Nations as a translator and later rose to an administrative position.
Martinez activism began when she joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee before she became heavily involved in the Chicano movement.
Once there, she founded El Grito Del Norte a month newspaper that circulated throughout New Mexico and surrounding areas.
She later went on to create her most well-known work, “500 years of Chicano History in Pictures.”
Silvia Mendez (1936 – Present)
Silvia Mendez is a Mexican-Puerto Rican who has devoted her life to the American Civil Rights activism, since the 1946 desegregation case of Mendez v. Westminster.
Mendez’s father and his wife where community leaders against segregation in public schools, filing a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles in 1945 against four Orange County school districts on behalf of 5,000 Hispanic-American schoolchildren.
On February 18, 1946, the court ruled in favor of the Hispanic counterpart, moving forward the desegregation of all public schools in California.
Felicitas Mendez kept her father’s legacy traveling and lecturing and making public the historic contributions made by her parents.
María Teresa “Mariposa” Fernández (1971 – Present)
Born in The Bronx, Fernández is a poet, playwright, educator and human rights activist in a 3rd generation of Puerto Ricans.
Inspired by Ntozake Change, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra María Esteves and Julia de Burgos, Fernández’ work bounces back and forth between English and Spanish, exploring themes such as family, identity, empowerment and the Afro-Latina experience in the U.S.
She counts with publications such as “Born Bronxeña: Poems on Identity, Love & Survival” and she has collaborated in collective publications like “The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature” and “The Afro Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States”.
Her work is currently subject of lectures in academic institutions through the U.S., Puerto Rico and Europe.
Yvette Modestin (Present)
Born and raised in Colon, Panama, Modestin has worked as a writer, poet and activist, focusing on shedding light on the Afro descendent experience in Latin America. She is the founder and executive director of Encuentro Diaspora Afro in Boston, MA, and the coordinator of the Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diaspora.
Her role has been fundamental in joining the Latin American and African American communities through her leadership and work in literature. Works such as “Women Warriors of the Afro Latina Diaspora” and her collaborations in collective publications such as “Rapsodia Antillana” and “Antologia de Poesia Colonense” are testimonies of her dedication and hard work in the anti-racism awareness campaign.
Mónica Carrillo Zegarra (1984 – Present)
Mónica Carrillo is a Peruvian journalist, poet, singer and activist, who has devoted her career to empower the Afro-descendant community in Peru.
Trained in Social Communications in the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Carrillo majored in International Law in Oxford University and she currently holds the position of Director in LUNDU (Afro-Peruvian Center for Studies and Promotion) in Lima, an organization that works towards the acknowledgement of the community in Peru and fights discrimination and racism.
Gloria Anzaldúa (1942 – Present)
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was a Chicana academic, political activist, feminist, writer and poet, trained in comparative literature in the University of Texas (Austin). Anzaldúa contributed with the definition of feminism and with the cultural theory research in subjects such as Chicano identity and Queer theory. Her main work was the introduction of the mixing through what she called the “new mestiza”, defined as the state of being “beyond”, inside her work “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness”. Anzaldúa used both English and Spanish as a tool to represent the mixture in the Chicano identity.