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'Emma Tenayuca Memorial Way' first step in new effort to honor Mexican-American legacy in San Antonio

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo speaking at a podium in front of City Hall, flanked on her right by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Congressman Joaquin Castro and on her left District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha-Garcia, MACRI Executive Director Sarah Gould, Sharyll Teneyuca, Dennis Campa, and others.
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo speaking at the announcement of her joint proposal with Mayor Ron Nirenberg to designate a section of Cevallos Street after Emma Tenayuca.

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Standing alongside Congressman Joaquin Castro and Ditsrict 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced a proposal on Monday to designate a stretch of Cevallos Street from IH-35 to Probandt Street “Emma Tenayuca Memorial Way,” after the Mexican-American civil and labor rights hero.

The proposal is the first piece of a broader effort led by the three public officials and the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute (MACRI) to celebrate the contributions of Mexican-Americans in San Antonio’s history.

Tenayuca led the 1938 pecan-shellers’ strike of nearly 12,000 mostly Mexican-American workers. The strike protested unjust wages and horrible working conditions, and it is still the biggest in San Antonio’s history. Her niece and nephew, Sharyll Teneyuca — who spells her last name differently — and Dennis Campa, were present at the announcement and spoke about who Tenayuca was.

“I think there was so much suffering that she personally, being a person of empathy and compassion and knowledge, could simply not turn her face away,” Teneyuca said. “She could not do nothing, she had to act.”

Castro explained why this broader effort to highlight important Mexican-Americans was necessary.

“Think about the effect on the young Mexican-American children, young boys and girls, of hardly ever seeing anybody that looks like them, with their last name, with their color skin, who has done something worthy enough to be studied in our public schools,” Castro said. “So I am saying in a very positive way that we should celebrate these figures because they have done things over the years important in labor, in business, in science, in engineering, in law, and those things are worth celebrating.”

Sarah Gould, the executive director of MACRI, said honoring Mexican-Americans in San Antonio was good for the entire community.

“All Americans should know about Mexican American civil rights history because it is American history,” Gould said.

Castillo said Tenayuca’s work in the 1930s was still as relevant today as it was then, highlighting unionizing workers at local Starbucks stores and SAY Sí, an afterschool arts nonprofit, as proof of Tenayuca’s continued influence.

“What this symbolizes is that the struggle continues, and the fight for livable wages [and] access to health care is ongoing right?" she added. “But there's always been community organizing to secure those victories.”

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