Emma Tenayuca


Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Lulu Flores

Tenacious labor leader and educator Emma Tenayuca was born in San Antonio in 1916. With her family and neighbors strongly affected by the privations of the Great Depression, she joined labor protests on behalf of the working poor. She was arrested for the first time at age 16 after joining a picket line of workers striking against the Finck Cigar Company.

Tenayuca worked with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, the Woman’s League for Peace and Freedom, and the Workers’ Alliance of America. She organized protests following the beating of Mexican migrants by U.S. Border Patrol officers in 1937, and was arrested several more times participating in labor strikes and protests. As an organizer, she played a vital role in the famous 1938 Pecan Shellers’ Strike in San Antonio.

Tenayuca’s work led her to an interest in socialism. She joined the Communist Party, and in 1938 married Homer Brooks, a Party leader. In 1939 she was scheduled to speak at a rally for which legendary mayor Maury Maverick had granted a permit, but when an anti-communist mob caused a riot, she was effectively blacklisted and run out of town. She divorced Brooks and moved to Houston and San Francisco, pursuing higher education opportunities. She returned to San Antonio as an educator in the 1960s, inspiring generations until her death at age 82 in 1999. Recalling her early arrests, she said, “I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice.”


American National Biography Online, Emma Tenayuca. http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-01312.html

Croxdale, Richard. "Pecan-Shellers’ Strike," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/oep01), accessed January 01, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Houston Institute for Culture, Civil Rights Movement/The Hispanic Experience, Events in the Life of Emma Tenayuca. http://www.houstonculture.org/hispanic/tenayuca.html

Wikipedia, Emma Tenayuca. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Tenayuca

Audio Source Information

Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.