Latina activists’ stories can be heard in their own words at Cal State Fullerton – Orange County Register

They raised their voices.

Now others can hear those voices.

The oral histories of nine local Latina community activists are featured in an exhibit at Cal State Fullerton, allowing listeners to share in the experiences of women who fought for such things as labor unions, health access, immigrant rights and law enforcement accountability.

“Nevertheless” by muralist Kristy Sandoval carries emblems representing the work and advocacy of the nine Latina activists in the exhibit. (Photo by Wendy Fawthrop, The Orange County Register/SCNG)
An exhibit at Cal State Fullerton’s Pollak Library features the oral histories of nine Latina activists. (Photo by Wendy Fawthrop, The Orange County Register/SCNG)

“Voces de Liberación: Latinas and Politics in Southern California” runs through June 21 in the Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery at Pollak Library. Visitors can hear the women’s oral histories on iPods or their own mobile devices using the SoundCloud app.

One of those voices belongs to Theresa Smith of Placentia, who founded the Law Enforcement Accountability Network after her son, Caesar Cruz, was fatally shot by Anaheim police officers while sitting in his SUV in a Wal-Mart parking lot in 2009. Smith began peacefully protesting outside police headquarters two days later; her activism helped lead to the proposal and passage of the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015.

“The work of a community activist is not easy. It’s not easy at all,” Smith says in her oral history. “An activist doesn’t get paid for this. … I do this, like I said, for my son. I do it for his sons, for my grandsons, for the future of all of our sons and daughters and because, in activism, there is no gender, race, religion. We’re all one human race.”

That many of the women are “everyday people” appealed to history master’s student Jael Müller, who curated the exhibit from CSUF’s Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History’s Women, Politics and Activism Project, led by Natalie Fousekis, professor of history and center director.

Jael Müller, Cal State Fullerton master’s student who curated the “Voces de Liberación” exhibit at Cal State Fullerton. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

“These stories are out there for the public, not just stored in an archive,” Muller said at a preview of the exhibit last month at which eight of the nine women appeared.

Speaking out, and inspiring others to do the same, was what brought many of the women to the place they are today.

Labor union leader Ada Briceño, founder of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, was 18 when she started as a front-desk clerk at an Anaheim hotel, then worked her way up to be the first Latina president of the local hotel workers union at 26. In 2014, the union pushed through an ordinance in Los Angeles requiring at least a $15.37 hourly wage at the city’s large hotels and won union recognition for more than 900 food service workers at Angel…

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