“I don’t think I should have to stand up.”
Those were simple words that Rosa Parks once said. With that statement she opened a flood gate of voices, voices with questions and demands for answers.
There were many factors, or chain of events that led to the rise of the civil rights movement in the nineteen sixties. We can cite FDR and World War II. The United States gathered its fighting forces from all the states and territories. The armed forces created a true melting pot of cultures.
Major league baseball bringing in that first, Jackie Robinson to the major leagues was another to forward.
The expanding postwar economy of the nineteen fifties, new jobs, new opportunities, led to a rising optimism in our future.
The G.I. Bill helped many World War II veterans complete their college education.
The promise and the dream that JFK represented another link in the chain of events that brought the Civil Rights Movement to our nation
The Civil Rights Movement spread everywhere in the 1960’s. Martin Luther King led the way with peaceful marches and demonstrations.
Many Hispanic voices began to speak out at that time:
- Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta on behalf of the farm workers.
- Singer-song writer Joan Baez used her talents on behalf of human rights and civil rights.
- Journalist and reporter Ruben Salazar lost his life reporting on the neglect and abuses of the Hispanic people in Southern California.
- Activist and author Ernesto Galarza wrote about the plight of the farm laborers and the Bracero Program.
- Poet Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles was an activist from Denver Colorado. His poem “I am Joaquin” inspired his generation.
- José Angel Gutiérrez from Crystal City, Texas organize students to stand up for their rights. His efforts spread nation wide.
- The poet Alurista was another voice that introduced the concept of Atzlan, our land.
- Reies López Tijerina from New Mexico spoke out about the land issues of the original settlers and their descendents.
- Dr. Hector P. Garcia founded the American GI Forum to address the needs and problems of Mexican American veterans.
- Quinto Sol Publications from UC Berkeley became a forum for what was called at that time, the “Chicano Voice.”
- Rita Ledesma from San Jose, California fighting the good fight to improve our children’s education.
Here she is in the early 1960’s with her husband Edward. A WWII veteran, the GI Bill gave him a college education and a long career as an educator in Santa Clara County.
Rita began to be involved in her husband’s efforts and later, their children’s education. At first she was a classroom volunteer for her children’s teachers. It was then that she noticed a student in the back of the room sitting quietly and looking bored. He was a Spanish speaking student and knew no English. Basically, he was being ignored by a system that did know how to deal with him.
This was the beginning of her active participation with the Oak Grove School District and their policies. In time she organized a group of mothers and grandmothers to address this situation and to discuss other issues concerning the Spanish-speaking students.
She remained so involved in these concerns that the district created a paid position for her, and she was hired as a Community Liaison.
She fought for the creation of bilingual education, education for all the district’s students. This was in the early 1960’s and this was a new concept.
She served for more than thirty years, often at odds with the district officials. Rita Ledesma’s questions guided them to understand and address their students’ needs.
In the year 2000 the Oak Grove School District built their last new school. They decided to honor Rita Ledesma’s years of involvement by naming the school in honor of her.
Here is a recent photo, she is surrounded by her children. Rita Ledesma was married to my mothers’ brother and I am proud to be her nephew.