Emma Tenayuca Becomes a Labor Organizer in San Antonio
Digital History ID 3701
Far from being passive, Mexican American workers in Texas strongly defended their rights. In an interview in the Texas Observer in 1983, Emma Tenyuca, a leading labor organizer in San Antonio, offers an overview of her experiences.
I was born in 1916 at the end of the year. If I look back on my life, I can’t say there was one or two or three factors or influences. It was the entire situation here….
I started going to the plaza and political rallies when I was…6 or 7 years old…. You had the influence of the Flores Magon brothers [who were anarchists, pacifists, and critics of the United States]. Then from our country we had the Wobblies [the Industrial Workers of the World]. And you had enganchadores, contractors who came in and took people out to the Valley. I was exposed to all that….
After World War I we saw the beginning of the development of agriculture in the Southwest….You needed labor here. As long as there is a need for labor, Mexico will be the place where labor is most accessible….
I saw my first strike activity during the Finck Cigar strike…. It was 1934. I went down to the picket line…. They [the strikers] were mostly all women. That was the first time I went down and saw a police action.… I landed in jail and learned how difficult it would be to make this a union town….
The attitude of the establishment led me to activism…A prominent San Antonio political leader made a statement that all he had to do was notify the immigration authorities and they would go to the picket line and that would break up the strike….
Among the first issues at the Workers Alliance here was the right of workers to organize without fear of deportation.
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