Josefina Fierro de Bright served as a political and social activist in the 1930s and 1940s through her participation in the Mexican Defense Committee, El Congreso (the National Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples), and the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, as well as her important efforts to end the violent attacks on ethnic Mexicans in Los Angeles during the Zoot Suit Riots. Fierro participated in organizations focused on human, civil, women’s, and labor rights. She contributed to a cross-cultural “politics of opposition” determined to create a world where true equality might flourish. She used American nationalist and transnationalist approaches. In the United States, Fierro networked with activists, celebrities, and political leaders who supported many of the same causes that she did. Her transnational approach materialized in the form of collaboration with the Mexican consulate, which also sought to secure the human rights of ethnic Mexicans living in the United States during a time of strong anti-Mexican sentiment. In order to understand why and how Fierro emerged as a leader willing to challenge the racism undergirding the segregation and mistreatment of ethnic Mexicans in California in the 1930s and 1940s, this study examines her family’s history of social activism, the fluid sociocultural environment of an American Left in which women played central roles, and her bold and charismatic leadership style.
Early Identity, Environment, and Experience: The Organizational Leadership of Josefina Fierro in the 1930s and 1940s
Gabriela González is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She teaches courses on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Latinx history, women’s history, and historical methods. She received her PhD in U.S. history from Stanford University in 2005 and is a Ford Foundation Diversity Fellow. Professor González is the author of Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights (2018), which received the TSHA Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas History, the Liz Carpenter Award for Best Book on the History of Women, the Jim Parish Award for Documentation and Publication of Local and Regional History, the Cleotilde P. Garcia Tejano Book Prize Award, and the NACCS–Tejas Foco Nonfiction Book Award; it was was a finalist for the Weber-Clements Book Prize for Best Book on Southwestern America. González is the author of “Carolina Munguía and Emma Tenayuca: The Politics of Benevolence and Radical Reform, 1930s” (Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 2007) and “Jovita Idar: The Ideological Origins of a Transnational Advocate for La Raza,” in the book Texas Women: Their Lives and Times (2015). González was interviewed for the PBS American Masters documentary “Unladylike2020: The Changemakers,” aired on July 10, 2020, commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. She is currently working on a book-length biography of Jovita Idar.
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Gabriela González; Early Identity, Environment, and Experience: The Organizational Leadership of Josefina Fierro in the 1930s and 1940s. California History 24 December 2020; 97 (4): 133–136. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2020.97.4.133
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