Modesta Avila
Modesta Avila

Top Five Latinas in Orange County History!

This evening, iconic Chicana author Betita Martinez will speak about her latest book, 500 Years of Chicana History, an excellent—if a bit too ¡QUE VIVA LA RAZA! for genteel (read: gabacho) historians—collection of pictures and facts at the Teamsters 952 Union Hall, 140 South Marks Way, Orange, at 7 p.m. In honor of her appearance, I present something I rarely do: a list! Here is my top five Mexican women, in slightly chronological order, in Orange County history that are no longer with us:

1. Modesta Avila: The first convicted felon in Orange County, and someone who set the template for Mexican-gabacho relations. Literally railroaded to an early death in San Quentin.

2. Martina Espinoza Burruel aka La Chola Martina: Historians have long maligned Espinoza for her role in the 1857 shooting death of a San Juan Capistrano shopkeeper by a gang led by bandit Pancho Daniel but forever associated with Juan Flores. With no proof whatsoever, O.C.'s historical Brahmins have claimed Espinoza messed with the guns of L.A. County Sheriff James Barton, was Flores' lover, and some still claim she was a witch. Another template: O.C. Mexican history distorted, maligned, or ignored.

3. The Ladies of the 1936 Citrus War: No pictures exist of these ladies; hence, the orange crate. Apropos, as it were. From the introduction to my story on the most important event in Orange County history few have ever heard of:

On June 15, 1936, at the break of dawn, about 200 Mexican women gathered in Anaheim to preach the gospel of huelga—strike. Four days earlier, about 2,500 Mexican naranjeros representing more than half of Orange County's crucial citrus-picking force dropped their clippers, bags and ladders to demand higher wages, better working conditions and the right to unionize.

The women spread across the groves of Anaheim, the heart of citrus country, urging workers to let the fruit hang. Twenty Anaheim police officers confronted the women; they refused to disperse. At some point there was an altercation, and 29-year-old Placentia resident Virginia Torres bit the arm of Anaheim police officer Roger Sherman. Police arrested Torres, along with 30-year-old Epifania Marquez, who tried to yank a strikebreaker—a scab—from a truck by grabbing onto his suspenders.

Top Five Latinas in Orange County History!

4. Felicitas Mendez: If you do not know who she is (pictured with husband Gonzalo), then leave America, you commie pinko scum. Or, get a job with the Huntington Beach Fourth of July Parade

5. Josefina "Chepa" Andrade: La Reina de La Logan showed a generation of activists how to combat gentrification with moves still copied decades after the Logan barrio first came on the radar of SanTana bureaucrats. Chepa's Park is named after her.


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