Christine Marin, Ph.D.

Trailblazers 2011

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On March 24th, Latino Perspectives Magazine and the Raul H. Castro Institute will pay tribute to six trailblazing women. The event will take place at the Phoenix Art Museum from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.

These women have given us the legacy of civil rights. It is a legacy that has risen from themes of immigration, work, sacrifice, politics and social justice.

When Manuela Sánchez Sotelo and her family arrived in Arizona’s Salt River Valley in 1872 as Tempe’s first Mexican family, little did she realize the vital role she and her children would play in forging Mexican-Anglo American relationships and the advocacy of public education in the Arizona Territory.

Equally as important is Manuela’s daughter María Sotelo Miller. She and her children serve as examples of the blending of two diverse cultures in the Arizona frontier. Manuela’s grandchildren – María’s children – came away with teaching credentials from the Tempe Territorial Normal School and used them to educate Arizona’s children.

Two generations of the Cajero family left their homes in Jalisco, Mexico, bound for work in the copper mining town of Morenci, Arizona, in the early 1900s. They came in search of the American dream of equality and success and a better life for their children. Their dreams were fulfilled through the political work of Bernardo and Carmen Cajero and their daughter, Olivia Cajero Bedford. The women served their Tucson community with honor and with distinction. Carmen fought for state funding of free textbooks for Arizona’s high school students and won. And her daughter Olivia fought for the rights of women to advocate for their own health care.

Cecilia Teyechea Denogeán Esquer and Mary Rose Garrido Wilcox left their copper mining community of Superior as young women in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s to pursue an education at Arizona State University. As students and as political leaders, they encountered challenges that awakened their sense of social justice and equality. They experienced school segregation and they didn’t like it. And they knew it was wrong.

Cecilia and Mary Rose were products of the 1960s civil rights era and the Chicano Movement in Arizona. They excelled in their varied careers in the legal field, as educators, social workers, political leaders and as civil rights advocates. And their constant message was that of equality and equitability. Once they entered the arena of politics, there was no turning back for them. Their political contributions on behalf of the Democratic Party are legendary. But what is more notable is their work on behalf of the poor; the dispossessed; the women and children and their families; the sick and the elderly.

These six Latina trailblazers are the daughters of honorable families with rich histories of moral courage and strength. They were raised in communities that taught them lessons of cultural survival and political struggle. They have been agents of social change and have made a difference in their professions and careers. Their efforts strengthened their collective communities and they have helped others to find their own place in America. They are extraordinary women of Arizona – true trailblazers.

See this story in print here:


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