Book – Non-fiction. By Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Tenayuca, and Celina Marroquin. 2008. 40 pages.
Bilingual (Spanish and English) biography of labor activist Emma Tenayuca for upper elementary.
Emma Tenayuca was born in born in San Antonio, Texas in 1916. Through her work as an educator, speaker, and labor organizer, she became known as “La Pasionaria.” From 1934-48, she supported almost every strike in the city, writing leaflets, visiting homes of strikers, and joining them on picket lines. Her first knowledge of the plight of workers came from visits to the “Plaza del Zacate” where socialists and anarchists came to speak. Contact with fired workers led her to join the Communist Party in 1937 and the Workers Alliance (WA) in 1936, an organization of the unemployed founded by Socialists and Communists, 90 percent 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, she was unanimously elected strike leader. Tenayuca explained in an oral history interview,
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.
Historians regard this as the first successful large-scale act in the Mexican-American struggle for civil rights and justice.
As a result of anti-Mexican, anti-Communist, and anti-union hysteria, she was forced to leave Texas to ensure her own safety and well being. She returned to San Antonio years later to work as a teacher.
Children can be introduced to the story of labor organizer Emma Tenayuca with the bilingual children’s book That’s Not Fair. The picture book begins with her childhood in San Antonio, Texas and describes her role in the 1938 strike by 12,000 workers.
This is the first book published about this significant Latina civil rights leader. Written for readers 6 and up, That’s Not Fair was the April 2008 national Las Comadres Book Selection and was listed in Críticas Magazine’s Best Children’s Books of 2008.
“Striking illustrations . . . an important book celebrating the struggle for justice and civil rights. —School Library Journal
“Tells of Ms. Tenayuca’s life, not as an organizer, orator, or leader but as a girl whose sharp mind and compassion for others sows the seeds of activism.” —National Catholic Reporter
By Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Tenayuca, Celina Marroquin. Illustrated by Terry Ybañez.
ISBN: 9780916727338 | Published by Wings Press.
Primary documents and questions about the Pecan Shellers Strike from the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 website, produced by SUNY-Binghamton.