Emma Tenayuca was born on December 21, 1916, in San Antonio, Texas, one of eleven children. She lived with her grandparents during her childhood to ease her parent's strife. When she was 16 years old, she joined the labor movement and found out all about the Finck Cigar Company strikes. She graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1934 and became an elevator operator. However, she was still in the labor movement, and was arrested once when she joined the Finck Cigar Company picket line.
In 1937, in San Antonio, Emma was named the Workers' Alliance's general secretary for ten chapters. Also, she was asked to be the strike representative in January 1938 for the pecan shellers, which she accepted. The problem was that the pecan dust made the workers have high tuberculosis rates and as workers, they had inadequate restrooms and cleaning facilities. Their wages had also been cut in half, unfairly.
Soon, Emma was granted permission to speak at the Municipal Auditorium at a small Communist party meeting on August 25, 1939. However, the auditorium was stormed with people who hated Communists and the whole meeting got really violent. Emma got out of there safely, but from that point forward, she received many death threats.
Emma was blacklisted after that incident and she was forced to leave San Antonio. She moved to San Francisco instead and in 1952, she got her teacher's certificate. She then taught at Harlandale school in San Antonio once she was allowed back in Texas. In 1974, she graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University and received her Master's degree in Education. She retired in 1982.
Emma died on July 23, 1999, having established minimum wage for all workplaces nationally, among other achievements.
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