16 April 2012

"we were there"

The settlement of the Farah strike in 1974 had, for many women, come at great personal cost. Few activists would enjoy the benefits since many of the most vocal were fired after a few months, ostensibly for failing to meet inflated production quotas; union representatives blithely refused to generate any grievance procedures to protect and retain these women. Mexican women have not fared well in their affiliation with mainstream labor unions even though they have contributed much of the people power, perseverance, and activism necessary for successful organization. As in the case of Farah, they typically have been denied any meaningful voice in the affairs of the local they had labored so valiantly to build.

Elsa Chávez is one of these women activists. After she was fired, Chávez began to work at another clothing factory, but came to the realization that she wanted--and could achieve--a college education. I first met Ms. Chávez when she was a student in my Chicano history class at U.T. El Paso; two former strikers had enrolled in the class, a fact I discovered as I lectured on the Farah strike and noticed the two reentry women, both bilingual education majors, sitting in the front row winking and giggling to each other. "Oh, we're sorry, Dr. Ruiz, but we were there." A bit nonplussed, I turned the class over to them.

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, pp.131-132