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Women’s History Month: Latinas!

The is a guest post by Hispanic Division Huntington Fellows Maria Guadalupe Partida, Herman Luis Chavez, and reference librarian Maria Thurber.

Images used clockwise from top left – El Dia Internacional de la Mujer, by Deborah Dosamanes; Dia Internacional de la Mujer; Mis Madres, Easter Hernandez; We the people – defend dignity, by Shepard Fairey and Arlene Mejorado.

Last summer, as the global pandemic raged on and the need for digital resources continued, a group in the Hispanic Division decided to collaborate on projects highlighting the rich history and contributions of the Latina/o/x community. With support from supervisors, mentors, and colleagues, we — Huntington Fellows Lupita Partida and Herman Luis Chavez and Reference Librarian Dani Thurber — formed a group we call the Latinx Dream Team. Aided by video chats, calls, and text messages, we focused on all things Latina/o/x, from discussing the term “Latinx” to planning virtual events during National Hispanic Heritage Month. Despite working remotely from three different time zones and never having met in person, our combined efforts resulted in the publication of two new research guides: A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events and Latinx Studies: Library of Congress Research Guide.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we share the stories of Latina Luminarias whose lives, actions, and bravery inspired our work. We call these women Luminarias (luminaries) because they “lit the way” during challenging times. Luminarias, sometimes referred to as farolitos (“small lanterns”), are traditionally made out of paper bags with a small light source inside and weighted down by sand. A historical tradition from New Mexico, these little lights illuminate towns during winter’s darkness.

Jovita Idar’s El Progreso Park in Laredo, TX. Photo: Lupita Partida.

Jovita Idar

Journalist and community activist Jovita Idár was born in the border town of Laredo, Texas in 1885. Her parents founded “La Crónica,” a local Spanish-language newspaper that uncovered prevalent discrimination against Mexicans and Mexican Americans and roused activism among individuals residing in both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. In 1911, Idár helped assemble the first Mexicanist Congress, a political convention that addressed socioeconomic discrepancies within Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Idár joined the journalists of “El Progreso” newspaper, where she criticized President Wilson’s military intervention at the U.S-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution. After reading Idár’s political editorial, Texas Rangers arrived to shut down “El Progreso.” Idár firmly stood outside, prohibiting the Rangers from entering. Ultimately, Texas Rangers shut down “El Progreso,” but Idár remained an activist, writing pro-suffrage editorials for both “La Cronica” and “Evolución,” a newspaper founded by Idár alongside her brother.

Pura Belpré

Pura Belpré arrived in New York City in 1921 and discovered a need to connect the growing Hispanic communities across the city’s boroughs. As one of the first bilingual assistants hired by the New York Public Library, Belpré found fertile ground for bilingual cuentos folklóricos (folkloric stories) from her native Puerto Rico. Belpré wrote and published her own cuentos and went around the city telling stories and inspiring literacy. Belpré’s legacy lives on through ALA’s Pura Belpré Award, which honors her as one of the most influential librarians to promote children’s literature and for her service to the Latina/o/x community. In the Hispanic Division, we honor Belpré’s work by recommending diverse children’s and YA materials for the Library’s collections and hosting the annual Américas Award ceremony. Last year, Planting stories: the life of librarian and storyteller Pura Belpré received a commendation from the Américas Award committee.

Celia Cruz, 1962. Prints and Photographs Division.

Celia Cruz

The music of Celia Cruz can lift spirits even on the gloomiest day. Cruz grew up in Havana, Cuba exposed to diverse music and musicians. Known worldwide as the “Queen of Salsa,” Cruz recorded more than 70 albums and received countless accolades. In 2005, Cruz was awarded posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2013, the Library added Cruz’s collaborative album with Johnny Pacheco, “Celia & Johnny” (1974) to the National Recording Registry. With her distinctive shout “¡Azucar!” (“Sugar!”) while singing, Cruz’s voice and her music’s uplifting rhythm are wonderful reminders that life is beautiful despite adversity.

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera, born Ray Rivera Mendoza, was a Latina transgender activist and drag queen with Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, and Mexican roots. During the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, Sylvia demonstrated against the police raid of the Stonewall Inn. Following this event, a wave of political activism emerged within the LGBTQ community, leading Rivera to press for New York City’s first gay rights ordinance. In 1970, Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a NYC-based organization that supplied lodging for homeless transgendered and queer youth. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SLRP), a non-profit organization that provides free legal services for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals was founded in 2002 to honor Rivera’s life-long activism for queer and trans people of color.

Rachael Romero. Stop forced sterilization. 1977. Prints and Photographs Division.

Antonia Hernández (1948-)

Antonia Hernández, born in Torreón, Mexico in 1948, is an attorney, civil rights activist, and the current president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit organization that supports marginalized communities in Los Angeles, California. Hernández defended the women of Madrigal v. Quilligan, a class action lawsuit filed by 10 Mexican-American women against the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for involuntary or forced sterilization. From 1985 to 2004, Hernández was the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), a nonprofit organization that advocates for the civil rights of the Latina/o/x community.

Photo: Fajardo-Anstine by Graham Morrison. Photo of Antonia Hernández used with permission.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine (1987-)

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a novelist from Denver, Colorado with Indigenous, Latina, and Filipino roots and a 2020 winner of an American Book Award. Fajardo-Anstine is the author of “Sabrina and Corina: Stories,” finalist for the National Book Award, a novel that captures the lives of Indigenous Latina characters in the American West. Winner of multiple awards and widely translated, “Sabrina and Corina” promotes a narrative of identity, heritage, and feminine empowerment. Listen to Fajardo-Anstine’s inspiring presentation and Q&A session during last year’s virtual National Book Festival.

The Latinas highlighted here are only a few of the women who inspired us this year. Please tell us in the comments about the Luminarias who have encouraged, nurtured, or taught you!

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