History of the League of Mexican American Women

Our History

Prior to the League of Mexican American Women establishing their  organization, between the years of 1973 and 1974, a small group of  women were already involved in community activities. These women  included Dolly Arredondo, Betty Rodriguez, Mercy Bencomo and Rachel  Torres. As Latinas, they were invited to participate with League of Women  Voters, The Volunteer Bureau, Women for Peace and Freedom and the  Junior League as a part of the newly established Women of Fresno  Coalition.  

In 1973, Dolly Arredondo sent a letter of invitation to local Latina women to  discuss the how’s and ways of organizing the Mexican American Women  for the betterment of our community. The League of Mexican American  Women was organized in 1973 and ratified in the year 1975. The idea and  purpose of this organization was to be a community service and not  political organization. At that time, its main focus was to provide leadership  training for Latina women in Fresno and to create and build a sense of  empowerment for women of all ages and social standing. The League’s  first women’s conference “La Primera Conferencia Femenil” was held in  that year at the Pinedale Community Center. The issues covered at the  conference were health, economic and social justice. The following three  years, the conference theme was “La Chicana y Su Salud”.  

The organization’s founding members were women who had many years  of experience with other mainstream organizations, as volunteers,  fundraisers and educators. They also participated in some Hispanic  organizations whose leadership were mainly males. As members of these  organizations, they were usually relegated to auxiliary roles. These women  were single, single parents, grandmothers, professional and business  women, and stay-at-home mothers. They recognized their opportunity to  have an immediate impact on their lives and careers by creating more  attractive avenues, opportunities and focusing on more relevant issues.  

During these years, women were experiencing the “feminine revolution”  nationwide. League women hesitated to be brought under the umbrella of  the “women’s movement” because they felt that the Latino community as a  whole, was in need of stronger leadership. This feeling was especially very  strong at the universities which included the “Chicano Movement. Latinas  were anxious to become involved in cultural and social changes. Several  of these students joined the League and contributed to the development of  various programs. 

In 1975, League affiliated with Comisión Feminil Mexicana National, Inc., a  newly organized statewide Hispanic women’s organization. This group had  many organizations within several cities in the Los Angeles area, and  throughout California. In 1980, members of League participated with  thousands of other women in the ERA March in Washington, DC. In 1982  Angie Cisneros was elected National President of Comisión Feminil and  served one year. In 1983,after years with this organization League  decided that it would be to its benefit to remain independent and thereby  be more effective working on local issues. They rapidly became a leading  Latina organization in the Central Valley and the State. They filed Articles  of Incorporation in 1978, and received their 501(c3) non-profit exemption  documents. Women from Madera, Visalia, Modesto, Bakersfield and  Sacramento called and requested assistance in organizing their own  groups.  

As a result of the Governor’s Chicana Conference in 1980, chaired by  Irene Tovar, Latina women were finally recognized as strong, viable and  contributing members of their communities. Subsequently, League  members were recognized by local and state politicians. Appointments at  the State and local level included:  

• California Commission on the Status for Women  

• California Medical Quality Review Commission  

• California Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice & Delinquency

• Advisory Council to the Legal Services Corp.,  

• The California Student Aid Commission.  

• Fresno County Delinquency Prevention Commission

• Fresno County Social Services Advisory Committee,  

• Fresno City Grievance Advisory Committee 

• Fresno/Madera Area Agency on Aging  

• And many others  

Many of the women were also invited to serve in a variety of Boards of  non-profit organizations. In addition, almost all of the college students who  joined League went on to graduate with bachelor, master, and doctoral  degrees. They became professional leaders in their selected careers.  

In 1975, under the direction of one of League’s founding members, Betty  Rodriguez, the Fiesta Navideña Fashion Show was established. Because  of her love for the Mexican culture, she was able to bring the richness of  our Hispanic heritage through music and fashions. It is estimated that  League has raised and awarded over $511,000.00 in scholarships to  students planning to attend Fresno State University, Fresno City College, 

Pacific University and other colleges and universities in the U. S. League’s  scholarships are awarded on base of need and merit. Without Mrs.  Rodriguez persistent energy, this event may have not continued to this day.  She passed away in 2012, and since then, Mrs. Lilia Chavez continues  with Betty’s Legacy.  

The League’s successes ranged from its signature Navideña Fashion  Show, Adelante Mujer Hispanic Conference and to partnerships with other  community based organizations that provided support for Latinas. 

One of League’s highlights was in 1978, when they were granted  $90,000.00 by the Fresno Employment & Training Commission (CETA,  Title 1 Funds), to establish a training program for women. Working  Opportunity for Women (WOW) provided training for disadvantaged urban  and heads of household women in non-traditional jobs. Jane Mejia served  as Director, and League members served on the Board of Directors. The  program lasted three years until federal monies were eliminated. 

In 1992 under the leadership of Alicia Natal, Young League was  established. These young women came from various high schools and  met on a weekly basis at which time they enjoyed cultural and educational  workshops and some field trips. They also provided support and  assistance at League functions. As a result, in l994, under the leadership  of Suzanne Moreno, the Mariposa Project was established. The goal of  the project was to field test specialized curriculum designed to raise the  educational aspirations and performance of high school Latinas through  the California Department of Education. A partnership was developed with  the League of Mexican American American Women and the Fresno Unified  School District. The program started in an low income housing site with 10  students, Funding came from the Carl Perkins Fund Vocational Education/ U.S. Department of Education Gender Equity. We received funds until the  Gender Equity Funding Sources ended in 1997.  

In 1985, with permission from Dr. Alicia Cuarón, founder of the Adelante  Mujer Conference from Denver Colorado, the League initiated its  conferences in Fresno. The workshop presenters were local Latina  business and professionals. The most unique and successful aspect of the  conference was that it was multi-generational and targeted high school  students. The students were introduced to an extensive spectrum of  career and educational opportunities, using community role models, local  resources, businesses, and industry. It brought in middle school, high  school and mothers of these students. Workshops at this conference  included: preparation for college, health issues, effective communication, career counseling and mentoring. These conferences were very  successful for 25 years.  

Another goal of the League was to provide support and assistance to the  Hispanic community, either through volunteerism or financial. For over 20  years, the League sponsored the annual Esperanza Golf Tournament.  Originally, the funds were awarded to the Fresno County Hospital’s  Hispanic Hospice and later, to Hinds Hospice, and thereafter, to Arte  America.  

Other League activities have included;  

• Dia de Los Niños,  

• Out of Town excursions to Museums,  

• Scholarship Award Luncheons,  

• Fundraiser for the women of UFW,  

• Backpacks for Jane Addam’s School,  

• Customs for Los Danzantes de Aztlan.  

• Centro La Familia  

• Shoes for school children in Mendota, CA.  

• Craycroft Center – Children’s Fun Day  

• Receptions promoting Latinos in Music and Theater  

• Latina Recognition Luncheons  

Because of its non-profit status, the League did not participate in any  political activities or endorsements. However, many of its members as  individuals, worked on many political campaigns and endorsements. The  League supports issues relevant to women, and especially, those  regarding the Latino community. The League of Mexican American  Women celebrated 47 years in 2020.

Dolly Arredondo
Betty Rodriguez

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