International Women’s Day highlights the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  This International Women’s Day, let’s take the opportunity to celebrate Texas Latinas who have shaped our local communities, country, and the world.

1. Jovita Idár

Shortly after receiving her teaching certificate in 1903, Idár became disillusioned and frustrated with the inequities in education for Mexican-American children. She turned to writing, and became an active contributor to her father’s newspaper, La Crónica, often articulating the educational, social and linguistic discrimination against Mexican-Americans. In 1916, she and her brother formed their own newspaper where they advocated for women’s rights in politics. Idár became the first president of the League of Mexican Women and led its primary mission of providing education for poor children.  

2. Emma Tenayuca

Photo: TexasHillCountry.com

Known as La Pasionaria, Tenayuca was born in 1916 and quickly became active in the struggles and rights of workers during the Great Depression.  She founded two international unions for women and organized large-scale strikes throughout San Antonio. At the age of 21, she led the 1938 Pecan Shellers Strike, which included thousands of mostly female workers, and is considered to be the first significant victory in the Mexican-American struggle for political and economic equality in the U.S. The South Texas Civil Rights Project has dedicated an annual award in her name, which is given to individuals striving to protect civil rights.

3. Irma Rangel

Born in Starr County, Rangel became the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives.  Her experiences growing up in Jim Crow-style segregation molded her into a champion of minority and student rights. Rangel was the lawmaker behind the top 10 percent law, which provides an opportunity to any student in the top ten percent of their high school graduating class to automatically qualify for admission in any state college or university.  This law ensured that minority students were on an equal playing field when applying to postsecondary institutions.

4. Estela Portillo-Trambley

Photo provided by Tracey Trambley

This playwright and poet was one of the first storytellers to create fierce Latina characters.  She highlighted issues about border life, immigration, poverty, feminism and gender stereotypes in a traditionally patriarchal culture.  Estela was a groundbreaker in Chicana literature. As the female protagonists, she created fought back – often violently – against societal and cultural norms of the time.  She once said, “A common suffering is a richness in itself.” In that sense, Estela was able to channel the richness and experiences of a group that was previously absent from literature.

5. Gloria Anzaldúa

Photo: “Gloria Anzaldua” by K. Kendall is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This Valley native has received global recognition for her work, which focused on themes of border culture and language, feminism, sexuality, and spirituality.  Anzaldúa often felt divided by the labels placed upon her and used language to channel her feelings about the discrimination she faced. Her best-known work is the semi-autobiographical Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, as she highlights the duality of language as a tool to both of oppression, but also as a tool capable of empowerment. Through her artistry, Anzaldúa was able to help herself and so many others “overcome the tradition of silence.”

6. Dr. Juliet V. García

Photo: Provided by Dr. García’s office

This Brownsville native was the first female Mexican-American president of a college or university (Texas Southmost College), and was recognized by Time magazine as one of the top 10 college presidents in the nation. Dr. García has dedicated her life to improving the lives of students of all ages throughout South Texas. She currently is working on a new project called Next Gen which recognizes the next generation of leaders in the community and will be broadcast on the RGV’s National Public Radio station.

7. Sister Norma Pimentel

Photo: GSR photo / Nuri Vallbona

Photo: GSR photo / Nuri Vallbona

This border saint is lead by love and humility.  As the Executive Director of the Catholic Charities of the RGV for the last 12 years, Sister Pimentel has become the face of humanitarianism in the ongoing refugee crisis.  Her voice has sparked people across the country to donate goods and their time to aide immigrants fleeing poverty and violence. In 2015 she was recognized by Pope Francis for her compassion and leadership. Pimentel continues to focus her energies on her social mission: working with refugees and responding to the needs of the local community.

8. Selena Peréz-Quintanilla

Photo: “Selena” by Lara Gonçalves is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This list would be amiss if it didn’t recognize the woman who still makes our heart go Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.  Selena’s legacy includes Queen of Tejano, fashion icon, philanthropist, and breaker of the internet. (Thanks, H-E-B!)  Her music and style continue to be passed on to new generations of young women around the world. Although her life was tragically cut short, she will always be Como La Flor to her fans.

9. Crystal Pacheco

Photo: Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District Facebook

A movement for good can often spring from the most unlikely places. In December 2017, first-grader Crystal Pacheco wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking for food, a blanket, and a ball for her brother.  Crystal’s teacher shared a photo of the letter on social media and it quickly took on a life of its own. Donations were made to the campus by people all over the country, making it possible for all 700+ students at Crystal’s school receive blankets as well.  Crystal’s letter moved so many people to action because of her sincerity and selflessness, but it also highlighted the impact of poverty and hunger on children.

10. Abuelas

Memes aside, there’s something special about Latina abuelas.  They’re our caregivers, storytellers, spiritual guides, and keepers of tradition.  Although they often hold fast to some of the outdated traditions of our culture (i.e. patriarchy), we all know that abuelas are the heart of our family.  There’s a reason why we all can relate to Miguel’s grandmother in Pixar’s Coco – her voice, like that of all our abuelas, guides the family, whether wrong or right, but always with love.  

Who are the women you are celebrating today? Tell us in the comments!

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