BY JEANETTE LENOIR
Described as a woman before her time, social activist María Rebeca Latigo de Hernández moved from Mexico to San Antonio where she became an activist for better education and better treatment of Mexican Americans. She stood up and became an outspoken community leader whose legacy lives on through her work and her family.
The 1930s were a tumultuous period for Mexican Americans. And yet, despite the pressures those with Mexican heritage faced, Maria L. de Hernandez became a fearless civil rights fighter for her people. According to the book, Decade of Betrayal by Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, “1 million people of Mexican descent were driven from the United States during the 1930s due to raids, scare tactics, deportation, repatriation and public pressure. Of that conservative estimate, approximately 60 percent of those leaving were legal American citizens. Mexicans comprised nearly half of all those deported during the decade.”
Although Mexican Americans served as a convenient scapegoat during these tumultuous times, Maria L. de Hernandez stood up and fought back. Not just for herself but for the entire Mexican American community. She worked tirelessly to improve the lives of others during her lifetime. Her recognition today, which would have been her 122nd birthday, is a testament of the importance of remaining strong, resolute, determined, forward pushing and selfless in the pursuit of justice and equality for all people.
Basic Facts from SRPS:
- María Rebecca Latigo de Hernández was born July 29, 1896 in Garza García, outside of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.
- Hernandez immigrated to Texas as part of the flood of people leaving Mexico during the chaos of the Mexican Revolution.
- She taught elementary school in Monterrey, Mexico.
- In 1915, she married Pedro Hernandez Barrera. The family moved to San Antonio in 1918, where they opened a grocery store and bakery, and set about raising their family, which eventually grew to ten children.
- In 1929, they helped found the Orden Caballeros de América (the Order of Knights of America), an organization dedicated to civic and political activities to benefit Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.
- In 1933, Hernández helped organize the Asociación Protectora de Madres, which provided assistance to expectant mothers.
- In 1934 the Hernándezes helped organize La Liga de Defensa Pro-Escolar, an organization dedicated to obtaining better facilities and better education for the West Side Mexican community.
- In 1932 María became San Antonio’s first Mexican female radio announcer, and in 1934, she spoke on the “Voz de las Americas” program to promote Council 16 of the League of United Latin American Citizens, organized to promote equality for Mexican Americans in all spheres of life. She was the only female speaker at the first meeting in 1934. The league was officially organized in December 1934, and she supported its efforts until 1940 and again in 1947, when it was reorganized.
- In 1938 she took up the cause of women workers’ rights in the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike when they stopped working to demand better pay and better working conditions.
- In 1939, she was part of a group of women to visit Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas to express good will between Mexico and the Mexicans in the United States.
- In 1945 she published her essay “México y Los Cuatro Poderes Que Dirigén al Pueblo,” in which she asserted that the domestic sphere was the foundation of society and mothers were the authority figures who molded nations. Around this same time, she organized Club Liberal Pro-Cultura de la Mujer, to build on those ideas.
- Over the years, she made hundreds of speeches promoting equality for the Mexican American community. In 1968 she appeared regularly on television in San Antonio to speak about education and social progress on a program sponsored by El Círculo Social Damas de América. In December of that year, she and her husband were also invited to testify at the San Antonio hearing before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, where they argued for changes in education to reform the embarrassing inaccurate portrayals of Mexican Americans and other minorities in the curriculum.
- In 1969 she was elected to the positions of treasurer of the order’s board of directors and president of Círculo Social. At the order’s fortieth anniversary she gave the keynote address. In 1970, continuing to grow her political activism, she joined the Raza Unida party and in July of that year served as a keynote speaker at its statewide conference in Austin. In 1972 she and her husband toured South and Central Texas in support of the party’s gubernatorial candidate Ramsey Muñiz and State Board of Education candidate Marta Cotera.
- María Hernández died of pneumonia on January 8, 1986, and was buried in the plot of the Orden Caballeros de América outside of Elmendorf, a symbol of the respect and prestige she had earned through her life’s work.