- Revisiting Mexican(a) Labor History through Feminismo TransfronteristaFrom Tampico to Texas and Beyond, 1910–1940
. . . para el buen desarrollo de la lucha emprendida en pro de nuestros presos y de todos aquellos que caigan por la lucha . . .
. . . for the good of the struggle in support of those who have been incarcerated and to those who risk their lives to continue the fight . . .Caritina M. Piña, July 3, 1930
On June 16, 1930, a young Mexicana, Caritina M. Piña, proceeded to the meeting hall of organized workers from Pierce Oil in the Gulf Coast town of Villa Cecilia. She was to deliver a report to nine labor organizations and their representatives who had come together for a special meeting. The meeting commenced at 10 p.m. and was called to order by members of the Comité Internacional Pro-Presos Sociales (International Committee to Free Social Prisoners), for which Piña served as the person in charge of correspondence. After roll call and a quick report on the finances of the committee and a summary of its efforts to prevent Baja California social prisoners from deportation to the Islas Marías, Piña took the podium. Piña explained to the group that she “had complained to the governor [of Baja California, José María Tapia] in the most energetic manner against the atrocities and crimes committed against the workers of that state and demanded the release of all social prisoners and pleaded with the governor to stop the deportation of the prisoners to the Islas Marías.”1 More importantly, she underscored that among the detainees was the compañera (comrade) Felipa Velásquez, who was apprehended along with seven of her children. This, according to Piña, was high on the list of priorities for the Comité; taking male or female prisoners was one thing, but seizing compañeras with their children was simply unjust, and Piña underscored the grave nature of the situation. The discussion continued until 12:45 a.m. with [End Page 107] the nine organizations’ representatives, including two oil workers’ unions, a philharmonic union, and an all-female group, all at hand. Piña proceeded to discuss other issues concerning the labor movement and vowed to take the message back to its members and continue to spread the word.2
While Velásquez was not released immediately, the activism on behalf of social prisoners such as Velásquez in the form of outright protests, letterwriting campaigns, and creating alliances with women and men involved transnational efforts by Mexicanas such as Caritina Piña, María del Jesús Alvarado, Felipa Velásquez, and others. This network of Mexicanas built upon the historic connections between the cosmopolitan port of Tampico, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and the Mexican north. In an era of increased border security, global fear of socialism, and state-initiated reforms that sought to modernize gender relations more through rhetoric than through action, the words and actions of Mexicanas sketched out a possibility for an alternative way of life. News concerning labor issues and women’s conditions from across the globe made its way to various towns and cities via the network that sought to address labor inequities, which included advancing women’s rights. Piña, Velásquez, Esther Mendoza, Domitila Jiménez, and others assisted in the circulation of ideas and the production of knowledge about labor issues. Women of the Tampico region in the state of Tamaulipas and from the Mexican countryside as well as women and men living across the Río Grande, contributed to the network’s printed news, often sharing localized concerns and updates on newly created organizations.
historiographies of feminismo transfronterista
I examine and treat this network of women activists’ lived experiences in the labor movement of the early twentieth century as an instance of a feminismo transfronterista that was couched in the language of compañerismo, a popular gendered discourse that the Tamaulipas state government (and the Mexican federal government) promoted during the 1920s after Mexico’s revolution. Mexicanas engaged in a political practice that transcended borders and forged alliances between women from Mexico and women and men...