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Women's History from the
Helaine Victoria Press Collection

Emma Tenayuca

photo of Tenayuca speaking at a demonstration

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Emma Tenayuca, born 1916 in San Antonio, Texas. A courageous Chicano labor leader whose commitment to justice led her to a militant stand against hunger, misery, and unemployment of the Great Depression. From 1934-48, she supported almost every strike in the city, writing leaflets, visiting homes of strikers, and joining them on picket lines. First knowledge of the plight of workers came from visits to the "Plaza del Zacate," the Trafalgar Square of SA where socialists and anarchists came to speak. Contact with fired workers led her to join the Communist Party in 1937 and the Workers Alliance in 1936, an organization of the unemployed founded by Socialists and Communists, 90% of whom were pecan shellers and agricultural workers. The WA held demonstrations for jobs, not relief, and demanded that Mexican workers had the right to strike without fear of deportation, and to a minimum wage and hour law. When 12,000 pecan shellers marched out of the factories in 1938, Tenayuca was unanimously elected strike leader. In retrospect she says, "What started out as a movement for organization for equal wages turned into a mass movement against starvation, for civil rights, for a minimum wage law, and it changed the character of West Side San Antonio."

© 1984 Helaine Victoria Press Inc. A nonprofit educational organization.
Research by Vicki L. Leighty in collaboration with Emma B. Tenayuca, 1984. Photos courtesy of Institute of Texan Cultures (San Antonio Light photos).
Front photo: Emma Tenayuca leading a 1937 Workers Alliance Demonstration on the steps of San Antonio's City Hall.

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