In a time when activism is “in” it’s easy to forget that activists all over the world are regularly murdered, tortured, kidnapped and/or banished from their countries. It’s real out here and we must remember that many who protest do so not because it’s “the right thing to do,” but because they are being faced with their own extinction. History rarely teaches us about the struggles and contributions made by Latina, Afro Latina, LGBTQ, or indigenous activists. In honor of Hispanic Heritage month here are 5 Latina activists that fight, trailblaze, and break barriers for their communities.
Marielle Franco was a Black, queer city councillor of the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). For the voiceless people of the Favela, Franco represented hope and change. She was the product of a scholarship to Rio’s prestigious Pontifical Catholic University and had a daughter at 19 who she raised with her partner Monica Benicio. But her activism really began in 2000 when a friend was killed by a stray bullet in a gunfight between police and gang members. The former preschool teacher from the slums of Rio used her passion and love for her community to become a beloved political figure who fought for the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised. In 2007 she began consulting for State representative Marcelo Freixo and coordinated the legislature’s Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship. She ran for a seat on the Rio de Janeiro city council in 2016 and was elected with 51 other representatives. Franco was a champion of reproductive rights, the LGBT community, single mothers and fought adamantly against gender and police violence. On March 15th Franco’s car was ambushed as she was on her way home from a speaking engagement, both she and her driver were killed in what appeared to be an organized assassination.
Lorena Cabnal is an Maya-Xinka activist working to make visible the issues impacting indigenous women living in the mountains of Xalapán, Guatemala. After Cabnal earned her degree in Community Social Psychology, she co-founded the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ) in 2003. She is a defender of women’s rights, environmental protections as well as an opponent of transnational mining and government militarization. Cabnal and many other women are working to promote Xinka identity but also a community based feminism that addresses the specific needs of the Xinka people such as persistent hunger, malnutrition, high rates of childbirth, and infant/child mortality. There are also issues of violence against women and human trafficking with young girls being sold illegal international adoptions or prostitution. She began literacy programs for women and began educating her community about the roots of the structural oppression—colonialism, patriarchy, racism, capitalism. In 2013 there were over 360 mining licenses issued and more than 600 pending in Guatemala, even though 66% of people were against mining. Today she still continues to fight for women’s rights, and the Xinka continue to mobilize against mining.
Camila Vallejo is a Chilean Communist Party Politician and former university student activist. She rose to international fame in 2011 as one of the leaders of the Confederation of Chilean Student Federations (CONFECH), a national body made up of student governments at Chilean universities. She was the second woman ever to be president of Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (FECH), and was a member of the Juventudes Comunistas de Chile. From 2011-2013 her name was everywhere, Camila Vallejo was dubbed “The World’s Most Glamourous Revolutionary” by The New York Times. Unfortunately most of the debate around her leadership revolved around her appearance most notably the press’ obsession with her nose ring—you know, because men. Their demands were a radical overhaul of the education system that favors the wealthy elite. Hundreds of protesters were arrested in clashes against the military as hundreds of thousands of students refused to go to class. The student movement was joined by miners, farmers, transportation workers, LGBTQ activists and environmental protections activists.
If we need subjects for new statues, I like Emma Tenayuca, Texan who in 1938, at age 21, organized largest strike in San Antonio history. pic.twitter.com/SLJOXdvB0Z
— c0nc0rdance (@c0nc0rdance) August 19, 2017
Emma Tenayuca is a Texas-born, labor rights activist whose work preceded Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. She was a pioneer in the against abhorrent conditions faced by migrant workers and laborers, substandard wages, and the disparity between the rich and the poor. She was arrested for the first time when she joined the picket line striking against Finck Cigar Company at the age of 16. Tenayuca went on to be arrested several times for her role in labor strikes and protests. She organized protests in response to the beating of Mexican migrants by Border Patrol officers in 1937 and organized the famous strikes and actions taken against the San Antonio Pecan Shellers’ in 1938. She joined the Communist Party, founded two International Ladies’ Garment Workers Unions, worked as an organizer and activist for the Workers Alliance of America, as well as the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom. She even lobbied the mayor of San Antonio to improve relief distribution for unemployed workers during the Great Depression. She was blacklisted in San Antonio in 1939 following an anti-communist mob incited riot, which prompted her to move to Houston and then San Francisco where she stayed for decades. She moved back to San Antonio in the late 1960’s and was laid to rest in her hometown in 1999 at the age of 82.
Jennicet Gutierrez is an undocumented trans immigration activist and a founding member and community organizer of La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. She gained recognition for interrupting Barack Obama’s 2015 speech during the White House’s annual LGBT Pride Reception, where she demanded the administration release all LGBTQ undocumented immigrants from the detention centers and stop deportations and detainments for all. She was boo’d and labeled a heckler but she highlighted the disconnect between mainstream “white” LGBTQ activism and it’s intersections with immigration reform activism. Today Gutierrez is still fighting for Trans and undocumented people. In 2017, La Familia successfully campaigned to terminate Santa Ana County Jail’s contract with ICE effectively ending their detention of undocumented people. You can get involved with La Familia here.