Fronteras: Texas Labor Strikes & San Antonio's Secret History | Texas Public Radio

Fronteras: Texas Labor Strikes & San Antonio's Secret History

Oct 12, 2018

In 1938, 10,000 pecan shellers in San Antonio went on strike. These were not your typical blue-collar workers. They were women; they were children; they were the elderly; and they were poor. But primarily, they were Mexican. On this episode of Fronteras, we talk to filmmaker Anne Lewis about her new documentary, “A Strike and an Uprising (in Texas)”  (0:16).

Then, TPR’s David Martin Davies tells us about the “secret history" of San Antonio (12:34).

Emma Tenayuca, leader of the Pecan Shellers Strike at the age of 21, stands on the steps of San Antonio's City Hall in 1938.
Credit Image from the Institute of Texan Cultures.

'A Strike And An Uprising'

The documentary covers two worker strikes in the Lone Star State: the 1938 Pecan Shellers strike, and a 1987 march by university employees in Nacogdoches.

FRONTERAS EXTRATexas Labor Actions Lead To Reform

Lewis documents the working conditions of shellers, which included enclosed rooms with little ventilation and no sanitary facilities. Pecan dust was everywhere, which led to high incidents of lung disease like asthma and tuberculosis.

The workers went on strike against Southern Pecan Shelling Company, led by local labor and civil rights leader Emma Tenayuca.  

Alamo City’s Secret History

There’s much more to remember about San Antonio than just the Alamo — like, in 1957, when State Senator Henry B. Gonzalez spoke for 36 hours straight in opposition to a battery of bills designed to prevent desegregation in Texas. It’s events like these that are hiding away in the crevasses of the city’s vast history. Davies helps fill in the gaps with his self-published comic, “San Antonio: Secret History.”

Davies said his fascination with the Alamo City’s seldom-told stories lie in  examples of racism and segregation in the 1950s.

Norma Martinez can be reached at and on Twitter @NormDog1