Somos Latina Book Launch at the
Wisconsin Historical Society
The Context of Activism
Front row: Tess Arenas director SL Project (l-r), Marie Black, Maria
Morales, Carmen De La Paz, Eva Perez Jackson Middle row: Carmen
Ireland, Rita Tenario,Berta Zamudio, Ramona Villareal, Maria Flores Cruz,
Lucia Nunez, Eloisa Gomez, co author of Somos Latina Back row: Patricia
Villareal, Patricia Casteneda Tucker, Ramona Natera, Yolanda Garza, Nelia
Olivencia, 0Barbara Medina, Deb Gil Casado, Rebecca Yepez, Sylvia
Eloisa is going to do other things. We hope that other women who deserve to be documented in history, other elder women will be placed on the site. Perhaps we
can have the community submit them. And we’ll put forms up for that. The questions that we asked, others can ask them. They can record it, either video or audio,
and put it on line. And then if they have an idea for a classroom that went really well, send it in. Let’s put it online.”
In some ways, Somos Latina is a grassroots history project that can absorb the stories of many more Latinas, creating a broad and detailed history of the impact
that Latinas have had on Wisconsin and beyond.
“We want to collect a lot more stories,” Gómez said. “In fact, the book is triggering that. I’m getting emails and requests about, ‘There should be this woman in the
book or that woman should be in the book.’ We wholeheartedly agree that there are so many more women who could have been in the book. The book isn’t the end.
The collection of oral history interviews can be housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. They made a commitment to the Somos Latina Digital History Project.
Tess and I don’t need to be the people to collect these stories. Through the template of our standard questions, through the standard profile sheets, anyone could
take the set of questions and profile sheets and interview their mother, their grandmother, their aunt or their sister and then submit it to the Wisconsin Historical
Society and they would consider whether or not it would be accepted as a part of the collection. My hope is we are going to get a ton more stories, a ton more of
these summaries of the work that they have done in the community.”
And the beauty of these histories is that together, they contain a complex and rich array of Latina activists from all sectors of the Latino community, from poor to
rich, from native born to immigrant, from those who chose to lead out front to those who worked behind the scenes.
"We actually have a few women from incredibly wealthy families in Latin America,” Arenas said. “And I want to say that I learned a lot too. As a welfare kid, I have
all kinds of biases like anyone else. And my bias is about the bourgeoisie. I’ve met inherited wealthy activists through the Wisconsin Community Fund. It was 15
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It has been said many times that it is the conqueror who gets to write the history of what
has happened and decide what is important. And for women, all too often, they have
been pushed to the shadows unseen by history because it was the men who stood in
But that doesn’t mean that women haven’t been active and movers and shakers since
the dawn of time.
Eloisa Gómez and Andrea-Teresa Arenas have begun the task of highlighting the role
and impact of Latinas in Wisconsin’s history using the foundation of video-graphed oral
histories of approximately 50 Latinas in the Somos Latina Digital Project housed at the
Wisconsin Historical Society. They went on to write about 25 of the women in Somos
Latina, published by the historical society.
“It was a horrible choice to make,” Arenas said. “It was like Solomon. Do you cut the
baby in half or not? It was gut wrenching. And again, that’s why we promote the website
along with the book. They really are complementary. Our goal is — as I envision the
website — regardless if you purchase the book, you can use the Somos materials in k-
12 classes. That’s why we developed the curriculum and put it on line for free. And that’
s why I am telling teachers. Develop plans and send them in. It’s an open site. We really
want the community to own this site. I’m going to disappear
years working with some fabulously wealthy people who are socialists and communists
and give their wealth to the foundation and other foundations for progressive change. I
knew that after my time with the Wisconsin Community Fund.”
But the Somos Latina project opened her eyes in ways that she could not foresee.
“I went to a workshop in California on unlearning bias to rich people,” Arenas said. “I
didn’t do very well. To make a long story short, some of these women who were
wealthy were approaching their community work because of cultural preservation,
pride and understanding the experiences of Latinos in the United States, which is very
different than Latinos where we are the majority. I used to think they were doing it
because they had free time and they were doing their charity work as a wife does while
the husband makes the money. And this is their leisure activity to fill their days in
between tea parties. No, they are committed. And it’s not about, ‘I feel sorry for them.’ No
it’s, ‘This is wrong and it has to change.’ And so, it’s a remarkable array of women. You
have these low-income kids who were migrant workers to low-income kids from the
barrio who now have advanced college degrees to immigrant women with wealth to
immigrant women with nothing. So I think it is a beautiful array of women.”
And it is this rich array of women that will allow future Latina activists to see
themselves within this rich tradition.
“I just think our younger people are going to benefit because they are going to say,
‘Wow I did not know someone persevered to create this change or to create that
change,’” Gómez said. “And now that I have this information, I feel more empowered to
do it because I felt something needed to be changed. I’m not just the lone person.’ ‘Now
I understand how people mobilized around the issue. Gosh, I can take that same
strategy and use it to create some change that is needed.’”
Arenas noted that when you change the past, the historical narratives that are written
about, you change the future as well because young people are now better able to
envision themselves in any field of endeavor they want to pursue or have a better
understanding on how to blaze new paths. The rewriting of that history is just beginning.
Somos Latina can be purchased at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Amazon, A Room of
One’s Own and local bookstores.