Two Chicanas inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame
March 21, 2014
By Pablo J. Sáinz
Sonia Lopez remembers that since being a young girl growing up in rural Imperial Valley she has had to endure discrimination for being a woman.
But she never let that stop her from achieving her goals, and during the Chicano Movement in the early 1970s, Lopez was a strong voice in the creation of the Mexican-American Studies Department at San Diego State University, where she completed her undergraduate work and soon became a lecturer in the newly founded department.
Even within the Chicano Movement, Lopez said machismo was present.
“The movement was very male-oriented, but women started getting educated and started taking on leadership roles,” Lopez said. “We wanted to reaffirm that women could be elected to leadership positions that were set aside for men.”
Years later, Lopez became a counselor at the Sweetwater Union High School District, in the southern part of San Diego County, where for 25 years she helped thousands of Latino students graduate from high school. She put a special emphasis in helping young Latinas to create goals for themselves, founding the Adelante Mujer Conference, which has been around for 20 years encouraging young Latinas and their mothers to not give up.
“We try to teach young ladies to empower themselves so that they don’t end up depending completely on a husband or their family. We want women and men to be equal partners, because when you become dependent on a relationship, you open yourself up to abuse,” the 66-year-old Chicana said.
Lopez, along with another Chicana trailblazer, Rachael Ortiz, executive director of the youth and family center Barrio Station in Barrio Logan, are being inducted to the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame for their work in favor of women and of the community in general. Lopez and Ortiz will be recognized along with other three San Diego women at a ceremony on March 28th at the McMillin Conference Center at Liberty Station (NTC).
“They have both given of themselves in huge ways,” said Ashley Gardner, executive director of the Women’s Museum of California, one of the organizations co-sponsoring the event. “Both of them have come from challenging backgrounds. By listening to their stories, we can inspire our young women today.”
Gardner said that the inductees into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame more and more reflect the diversity in San Diego. This year, two of the five inductees are Chicanas.
She predicts that in the near future, more than half of the inductees will be Latinas.
“The inductees are nominated by the public. We hope we get a good selection in our pool of nominees. We strive to have nominees from all backgrounds, including diversity in ethnicity, education, economically. We wouldn’t want to just honor five White scientists.”
For Ortiz, being inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame, is reaffirmation that Latinas have been making a difference in their communities for decades, but only now are they being recognized.
“I was very surprised when they called, I felt very humbled,” Ortiz said. “We’re beginning to see the recognition of all the contributions by Latinas in all areas of society. Society used to think we were asleep, but we were always quietly working, making a difference.”
Ortiz continues working as executive director of Barrio Station, a youth center that offers a positive, safe space for young people to do their homework, to practice a sport, and to plan their futures. Ortiz has been there for more than 40 years.
During that time, Barrio Station has become a community icon in Barrio Logan and beyond.
Lopez is currently working on two projects, one is an oral history that captures the stories of Chicanas, and the other one is helping in the development of the Chicana history archives at San Diego State University.
Both Lopez and Ortiz said they were very proud to be inducted to the San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame at the same time. Both mentioned that they’ve known each other for many decades, and consider themselves hermanas en la lucha.
To learn more about the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame, please visit www.womensmuseumca.org/whof.