August 25, 2006

History of Latinas’ struggle for suffrage, ignored by many

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Many Latinas take their right to vote for granted and never participate in elections, because they don’t know about the difficult road women in general had to face in order to gain the right to vote in the United States, according to a leading Latina historian.

Gracia Molina de Pick, a retired professor at the University of California, San Diego, and considered one of the establishers of Chicano Studies in San Diego, said that Latinas’ lack of information about the history of women’s suffrage is something that harms the community.

“This apathy we’ve seen in recent years us due to the ignorance about our past struggles,” said 76 year old Molina. “But only through voting can we bring a positive revolution of change to our Latino community. We need all Latinas who are able to vote, to vote.”

In order to educate women in general, this Saturday, August 26, San Diego’s Women’s History Museum and Educational Center will host an event to commemorate the 86th. anniversary since women got the right to vote in the U.S.

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was finally passed into federal law (by one vote) thus ending a 72-year struggle beginning with Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s famous “Declaration of Sentiments” delivered at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

The museum will screen the 2004 HBO suffrage film Iron Jawed Angels, the true story of suffragists Alice Paul (played by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Conner) who broke with the more conservative women’s rights movement to radically propel the campaign forward, shaping the future of America.

The event, which starts at 7 p.m. and costs $20 in general and $10 for students, will also serve as a fundraiser for all of the museum’s programs, including exhibits, workshops, and collections.

It will include guided tours of the museum, a short pre-film program, musical performance and drawings for prizes.

The event will also highlight Latinas participation in the road to suffrage, said Olivia Puentes- Reynolds, president of the board of the Women’s History Museum.

“It’s important, it’s critical that Latinas learn about the past in order to continue exercising their vote,” she said.

Molina is also a member of the museum’s board of trustees. She was one of the first five women to be inducted into our San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame.

She said that Latinas, especially Chicanas, played a major role in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

“There was an important relationship between White women and Chicanas, although many times women of color suffered double discrimination by being women and part of an ethnic minority at the same time,” Molina said.

There are many examples of Latinas who fought for women’s rights in U.S.

The first novel written by a Latina in English was published in 1872. The author was María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and her book Who Would Have Thought It? offered a bitter critique of U.S. racism while supporting women’s suffrage.

“You can see the suffering of women throughout the years in order to gain the right to vote,” Molina said.

She also said that Latinas’ struggle for the vote also included a long fight in Mexico, country where Molina was born in 1930 and where she lived until 1957, the same year Mexican women got the right to vote and the same year Molina moved to San Diego.

Here she continued the work she began in Mexico as a feminist activist.

She continued teaching in universities and colleges and at the same time formed several women’s organizations, including in 1970 the Comisión Fe-menil Mexicana Nacional.

Today, many young Latinas take their rights for granted, she said, something that she urged Latinas to change.

“We’re not going to accomplish real positive changes in our Latino communities if women don’t vote. With all the immigrants’ rights struggles, the discrimination, we’re not going to achieve justice without Latina participation. We must remember we’re a majority.”

For more information about the Women’s History Museum and Educational Center, visit www.whrp.net. It is located at 2323 Broadway, Suite 107, in San Diego. The telephone number is (619) 233-7963.

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