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.