Farmworker Women Leaders Making Major Impact

In observance of Women’s History Month, is celebrating Latinas who are making a difference every day. Today, as a part of National Farmworker Awareness week, we honor some of the women who are leading the migrant women’s rights movement.

Farmworker women put food on our tables.  They plant, pick, and pack fruits and vegetables, among other crops and plants.  It is estimated that more than 600,000 women are responsible for feeding us. These women are often subject to poor and unsafe working conditions. They are often victims of wage theft, gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, and a range of other problems.

farmworker women_we want rights

Often, a one-size-fits-all approach has been applied to efforts to improve conditions for farmworkers, with little attention paid to the unique issues that confront farmworker women as women workers.  However, farmworker women and their advocates have fought to ensure that farmworker women’s concerns are not ignored.  These women are strong, brave and they are making a difference for the benefit of many. In addition to Dolores Huerta, recognized in a previous Women’s History Month blog, below is a list of a few women who are making a difference in the fight for farmworker women’s rights:

Olivia Tamayo is the first farmworker women in the history of the United States to have a federal jury decide her case for sexual harassment against a major agricultural company. Tamayo sued Harris farms for failing to protect her from sexual harassment by her supervisor and for failing to remedy the problem once they became aware of it.  Tamayo prevailed in her lawsuit against the company, along with the related appeal. Tamayo is a role model to thousands of farmworker women throughout the United States.  She has also provided many advocates with her advice and expertise.  She has been lauded and honored for her courage to seek justice for the sexual harassment against her and for encouraging other women to come forward.  Among these, Southern Poverty Law Center presented her with the Esperanza Award in 2006.

Mily Treviño-Sauceda is the co-founder of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the first national farmworker women’s organization.  She is also the co-founder and the former Executive Director of Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, Inc., known as Líderes Campesinas.” As a former farmworker, Trevino-Sauceda has firsthand experience regarding the issues confronting farmworkers.  She has been very vocal about gender discrimination, wage theft, health risks and immigration reform. Treviño-Sauceda has worked on the local, state, national and international levels to ensure that farmworker women’s issues are included in the workers’ rights and women’s rights discourse. She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including being recognized as one of the “100 Heroines of the World” and the Ford Foundation and New York University Leadership for Changing the World Award, among others.

Marcela Olvera-Morales is the first woman to challenge gender discrimination in the H-2 guestworker visa programs on the basis of gender segregation in the case Olvera-Morales, et al vs. Sterling Onions, Inc. et al. Olvera-Morales filed her lawsuit on behalf of herself and other similarly situated guestworker women against the defendant employment agencies and employers for deliberately steered her and other women into lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. According to the lawsuit, Olvera-Morales and other women were able and willing to perform the higher paying jobs but those jobs were reserved for men.  The overwhelming majority of work-based visas are awarded to men and women are commonly steered into less desirable positions with fewer benefits in the work-visa programs.  The parties reached an undisclosed settlement to resolve this matter.

Kimber Nicoletti is the Director and Founder of Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA) at Purdue University.  She has been an advocate for migrant farmworker communities for over 20 years.  Nicoletti works at the national, state and local level engaging communities and organizations in the use of culturally relevant models for promoting healing, healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence. She was the first anti-sexual violence advocate in the United States to specifically focus on sexual violence prevention within the farmworker community. Nicoletti also created and moderates the Mujeres del Movimiento group which is a designated safe space for support and resource sharing for Latinas who work in violence prevention.  She was selected as the 2013 Woman of Distinction by the YWCA for her work with the farm worker community.

Elvira_Farmworker Association of Florida

Elvira Carvajal is a migrant rights activist and leader in South Florida.  She was raised on her family’s farm, alongside her six brothers and sisters, in Michoacán, Mexico.  Carvajal migrated to the United States at the age of 19, where she began to work on lemon farms and nurseries. She worked in the Florida agricultural industry for 20 years until she decided to learn English and get her high school diploma to better support her three children.  Carvajal graduated from high school in 1998 and made the decision to dedicate her life to improving the lives of migrant families and children.  She has served as a leader within the Farmworker Association of Florida since 2006.  Carvajal provides migrant women workers with information about their rights. She trains workers on pesticides safety and she has been an active voice and leader in the immigration reform debate. thanks all farmworkers, including these amazing Latina leaders for all that they do feed our families and fortify our nation.

Latina Leaders Courageously Fight to End Violence Against Women

In honor of Women’s History Month, here is the second part of our series.

In the U.S., incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault are rife, but the true extent of the problem is largely hidden from view. A staggering one-quarter of women have experienced domestic violence and more than six million children witness domestic abuse in their homes every year.

Worryingly, children learn violent behavior from witnessing violence. Men, too, can be victims of domestic violence and account for 15 percent of all cases.

In immigrant communities the statistics are harder to come by, but the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence says that domestic violence “is a widespread and destructive problem in Latino communities.” Language barriers, fear of deportation and cultural differences make it hard for immigrant victims of violence to come forward and receive the support they need.


Latinas and immigrant community members are also at risk of sexual violence.  They also often face sexual harassment at work. Human trafficking is another major problem that afflicts Latinas in the United States.

Below, we highlight five Latina leaders who have worked tirelessly to improve the situation for the millions of women and men who are the victims of violence each year.

Maria Jose Fletcher is trained as a lawyer and is actively involved in the fight to end human trafficking and violence against women. She spent two years on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women and she is the co-director and founder of the not-for-profit VIDA Legal Assistance. VIDA exclusively provides support and legal representation to immigrant survivors of violent crime, making it the only legal service of its kind in Florida.

Undocumented immigrants often exist in precarious circumstances, meaning they are less likely to want to alert the authorities if they are in trouble. One VIDA client explains, “My biggest fear in reporting the acts of domestic violence which I was subjected to by my husband, was being deported and leaving my children alone.” However, part of VIDA’s work is to educate immigrants on the laws that exist to protect victims of domestic abuse, as they do not necessarily face deportation for pressing charges in such cases.

Laura Zárate is the daughter of parents from the Mexico border region. She has three decades of advocacy and training experience, and in 2001 she co-founded Arte Sana (Art Heals), an organization that encourages healing through art for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Arte Sana has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a model program for survivors of sexual assault.

Founded in Austin, Texas, Arte Sana was the first national Latina-led organization to address sexual violence. Zárate has led the development of bilingual training programs on sexual assault, as well as championing internet-based collaborations amongst victim advocates. Arte Sana has also provided capacity-building training to organizations across the border in Ciudad Juárez, known worldwide for exceedingly high rates of violent crime against women.

Rosie Hidalgo has dedicated her twenty-year career to the fight against domestic violence, both in her former capacity as an attorney in New York City and Northern Virginia and in her current role as the Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza (based in Saint Paul, Minnesota) and the National Latin@ Network, a network of organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Latin@ communities.

Hidalgo also played an integral role in ensuring that the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2013. Rosie spent four years working in the Dominican Republic on domestic violence prevention, and she had also worked as a consultant for the World Bank on social protection initiatives.

In 2013, Hidalgo won an award recognizing her work on domestic abuse and immigration reform. Hidalgo said in her acceptance speech, “… comprehensive immigration reform is the critical next step to reduce the vulnerabilities to abuse and exploitation of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and to strengthen families and communities.”

Olga Trujillo is an attorney, author and consultant, renowned for her work to end child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. Trujillo began her career in the early nineties at the US Department of Justice, where she became the youngest women and only Latina to ever serve as General Counsel to the Office of Justice Programs.

As a survivor of abuse in her own family, Trujillo has an insider perspective on issues to do with violence against women. “Part of the coping that I developed was to basically dissociate, to leave my body and watch it as if it was happening to someone else,” Trujillo explains in ‘A Survivor’s Story,’ a courageous documentary that details the impact of emotional and sexual violence on her life.

Her current work includes providing training to mental health, medical and criminal justice professionals, as well as speaking at events across the country. In 2012, Trujillo published an autobiographical book called ‘The Sum of My Parts: a Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder.’

Susan Reyna was born in the US to a migrant farmworker family in 1955. She witnessed ongoing domestic abuse against her mother and at age five went to live with her grandparents in Texas. Far from a safe haven, she then experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather.

At age 19, when she already had two young children and a failed marriage behind her, Reyna got her first big break and was offered an office job with a migrant rights organization. She worked her way through the ranks of several organizations and today Reyna is the executive director of M.U.J.E.R. (Mujeres Unidas en Justicia, Educación y Reforma), an organization that primarily provides services to farm worker communities in Miami-Dade County, Florida. M.U.J.E.R. assists adult victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. You can read more about Reyna’s amazing success against the odds here.

Who would you add to this list? Share your names below.


Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at Celebrates Latina Leaders for Women’s History Month

In observance of Women’s History Month, celebrates the Latinas who are making important contributions to our society across industries, sectors and movements. This week, Rebeldes Mónica Ramírez, Jen Wilton and Luis Marentes worked together to highlight some of these incredible leaders. They are role models in their communities, schools and workplaces. We thank them for their leadership and for their tireless efforts to make our world better each and every day.

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Today we begin our series by spotlighting some of the Latinas who have made a significant impact in the fight for civil rights, including the fight for immigrants’ rights.  Historically, Latinas in the United States have confronted a number of civil rights issues, including discrimination in employment, housing, and education.  Latinas have been denied their voting rights and have been subject to amplified anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment, including an increase in hate crimes.

Below is a short list of some of women who have helped promote equal rights for all:

Dolores Huerta is one of the most important labor rights, civil rights, human rights and women’s rights activists of all time. Among her many accomplishments, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962. Today she is the President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.  Through her activism she has worked to achieve the passage of new laws and protections for farmworkers and others.  She coined the phrase, “Sí Se Puede,” which has been used as a slogan for the farmworker movement and many other important campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s  for President of the United States. Huerta has received many awards and recognitions for her incredible advocacy, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier, commonly referred to as “Doña Fela, was a passionate and staunch leader. She first rose to the spotlight for her activism in the fight for women’s right to vote, which was achieved in Puerto Rico in 1932.  In 1946, Rincón de Gautier became the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first female to hold this post in the Americas.  She was mayor for 22 years. Rincón de Gautier promoted the well being of the Puerto Ricans that she served. She focused on improving the infrastructure and health systems on the island. She died in 1994 at the age of 97. Rincón de Gautier helped pave the way for other Latina politicians.

Sylvia Méndez and her siblings were catapulted into the limelight when their parents Gonzalo and Felicitas made the decision to fight for the right for their children to receive the same educational opportunities as white school children.  In 1943, Latino students in California and other parts of the U.S. were still subject to school segregation. Mendez’s parents, along with a group of other parents, sued four school districts in California in the case Méndez vs. Westminster for discriminating against Latino students.  The Court found that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Méndez case resulted in school desegregation in the state of California and laid the foundation for school desegregation throughout the United States.  Méndez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Ana Avendaño, recently appointed the Vice President of Labor Participation for United Way Worldwide, USA, previously served as Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO. Through her work, she promoted critical labor-community partnerships and worked to connect the labor movement with Latino and immigrant communities.  Avendaño helped represent the labor community in discussions with business leaders in the immigration reform debates, leading to the historic shared principles that were announced prior to the introduction of the “Gang of 8’s” immigration legislation. She formerly served as Assistant General Counsel to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union where she was one of the leaders in the labor movements’ call for immigration reform and legalization.

María Gabriela (Gaby) Pacheco  is a leader in the immigrant rights movement.  Pacheco first gained national recognition in 2010 when she and three other immigrant youth leaders set out for a four month walk from Miami, Florida to Washington D.C. with the goal of raising awareness about the plight of undocumented youth.  Their action came to be known as the Trail of Dreams and their mission was to push for the passage of the Dream Act.  She and her colleagues set out to educate Congress about the reality of undocumented youth and adults who were brought to the United States as children.  Pacheco and her family moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was eight years old. Consequently, like hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth, she grew up and studied in the United States.  However, she did not have legal status to live or work in the United States.  Pacheco’s leadership helped pave the way for the   federal government’s decision to permit certain qualifying youth to apply for deferred action from immigration deportation, along with the opportunity to attend college and work.

Of course, this list could go on and on. Who would you add to this first list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We will have another one tomorrow.

Latinas We Admire: Whom Do YOU Admire?

March is women's history month, a time to celebrate women's accomplishments throughout history and the power of their vital contributions which have helped to shape and create the world we live in today. 



Why is Women's History Month Important?

Multicultural American women are especially overlooked in mainstream approaches to U.S. history.  We must stop relying on a system that doesn't cater to our needs and make greater efforts to take back control of our education.  Search, read and share your knowledge.

Despite the many great achievements by women in America, there are still great inequalities in our society.  It is unacceptable women still continue to face prejudice, stereotypes and many obstacles when it comes to attaining and deciding for themselves regarding basic issues like education, career, and health.

Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life from science to art creates a positive impact on the development of self-respect and self esteem for girls and young women.  It changes the definition of achievement.  When young people see these positive images they can then begin to imagine themselves and their peers in these roles. 

Women's history month is not just for women.  Everyone needs role models making it crucial to be exposed to strong and powerful women.  Let us all be inspired by the women who came before us and let us continue to create bigger dreams.  Once we become aware of their strength and accomplishments our understanding of what is possible expands.

Latinas We Admire

Mercedes Sosa (1935 –  2009) known as La Negra, was an Argentine singer whose songs gave voice to the voiceless shining a light on injustices.

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) Mexico's most famous woman painter created her own unique folkloric style of painting to paint the diary of her life.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651 – 1695) was a self-taught scholar and poet of the Baroque school who became a nun and was a huge defender of women's right to education.

Camila Vallejo as president of the University of Chile Student Federation and main spokesperson of the Confederation of Chilean Students in 2011 she led a movement for better access to quality education which continues today.

Rigoberta Menchú a Guatemalan activist for the rights of the indigenous people and a winner of Nobel Peace Prize.

Gabriela Mistral a Chilean poet, educator, diplomat, and feminist who was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945.

Julia de Burgos is considered by many as the greatest poet born in Puerto Rico, was also an advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico and an ardent civil rights activist for women and African/Afro-Caribbean writers.

Betita Martínez a Chicana feminist and a long-time community organizer, activist, author, and educator.

Rita Moreno a Puerto Rican singer, dancer and actress. She is the only Hispanic and one of the few performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony, and was the second Puerto Rican to win an Academy Award.

Violeta Parra a notable Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist.  Her most renowned song, Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life), was popularized throughout Latin America

Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985) was a Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who known for her "earth-body" art work.

Dolores Huerta a noted American labor leader and civil rights activist who, along with César Chávez, co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers', immigrants', and women's' rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award and the United States Presidential Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

Sonia Sotomayor is the Court's 111th justice, its first Hispanic justice and its third female justice to serve on the Supreme Court and was the woman who made the term wise Latina popular.  

Hilda L. Solis was confirmed as Secretary of Labor was the first Latina co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues and the first Latina to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier the first woman mayor of a capital American city, served as Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico for over 20 years. She was an active participant in the suffragist movement, the fifth woman who officially registered to vote and served as goodwill ambassador for four presidents. She revamped the San Juan public health system, established the school of medicine, and created the first pre-school centers, Las Escuelas Maternales, on which the Head Start program is based.

See some other photos that we have shared with our community.Your turn to share. What Latinas do you admire and why?

Our FAMILIA from Pa'lante Latino posted this very cool collage today on Facebook. Here is what they wrote:

In honor of International Women's Day we created a collage of some of the most important movements and women for women & human rights around the world past and present." Top left to right: Mirabal sisters, Susana Chavez, Rutas Pacifica De Las Mujeres,  Middle left to right: Maria Galindo, Luisa Capetillo, La Maleta Roja, Manal Al-Sherif, Harriet Tubman Bottom lef to to right: Rosa Parks, Lolita Lebron, Las Damas de Blaco, Susan Anthony, Maria Esther Gatti de Islas.

This is what some of our amazing Facebook friends told us:

We assked our Twitter peeps as well.