Jovita Idár- Pioneer for Mexican-American Rights

During the 1913 Battle of Nuevo Laredo, it was almost impossible to tell whether the fighting was taking place on the Mexican or the American side of the border. A 28-year-old journalist named Jovita had been following the unrest growing in both Mexico and the US, and she couldn’t sit by and watch any more. Along with a friend, Jovita crossed the border during the battle to see what she could do to help. She had been trained as a teacher, not a nurse, but by the end of the battle she was providing medical aid to as many people as she possibly could.

Jovita was born Jovita Idar in 1885 in the town of Laredo, Texas, on the US-Mexico border. She was one of eight children born to Jovita and Nicasio Idar. Her father, Nicasio, owned a small weekly Spanish-language newspaper, titled La Cronica. As a child Jovita was raised by parents who were advocates of rights for Mexican-American in the US, and she absorbed many of their teachings. She attended a Methodist school known as the Holding Institute, and she earned her teaching certificate in 1903, hoping to improve the lives of children living in small towns like Laredo.

Her time as a teacher exposed her first-hand to the problems facing children of Hispanic descent in America. Their schools were poorly funded with few resources, and even as a teacher Jovita felt she was unable to make her voice heard when she protested against these problems. In response, she resigned from her teaching post and became the first woman to work in her father’s newspaper office. She and two of her brothers helmed the newspaper during a time of unrest in the Hispanic community. She wrote about American-Hispanic relations, criticizing educational/social discrimination, deteriorating economic conditions, decreasing use of the Spanish language, loss of Mexican culture, and the practice of lynching Hispanics.

Jovita_IdárDuring this time in the early 20th century, several identity groups in America were establishing themselves with organizations to help end discrimination. The NAACP was formed in 1909, and several groups advocating women’s suffrage were gaining momentum. In 1911, Jovita and several members of La Cronica’s staff attended the first Mexican Congress in Laredo, Texas to discuss the issues facing Mexicans in the United States. During this time, Jovita became passionate about the idea of women’s suffrage and helped to found first League of Mexican Women. Jovita became its first president, and she chose their first objective based on the biggest need she had experienced so far: proper education for poor children.

Two years after the conference, fighting in the Mexican Revolution was beginning to intensify. After Jovita witnessed the Battle of Nuevo Laredo, she became motivated to help as much as she could. She joined an organization called La Cruza Blanca, similar to the Red Cross, and traveled all throughout Northern Mexico providing aid to the wounded. This experience strengthened her efforts to foster a cross-border community of Mexicans on both sides of the border. Upon her return from Mexico, Jovita wrote a series of editorials decrying discrimination against Mexican-Americans, including the widespread Texas practice of lynching of Hispanics. Her articles criticizing U.S President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send army troops to the border earned her attention from Texas Rangers, and they were dispatched to shut her newspaper down. She responded by standing in the doorway of her office and refusing to move aside.  

Following the fallout from the Mexican Revolution, Jovita moved to San Antonio where she met her husband, Bartolo Juárez. Jovita lived the rest of her life there, staying involved in the causes she believed in. She helped to establish a free kindergarten for children in the city, and she worked as a translator for patients in the county hospital. Jovita was fiercely passionate about the rights and treatment of Mexican-Americans in Texas and beyond. Throughout her life, her first priority was standing up for herself and her people during a time when women’s voices were not especially welcome. About her lifelong fight, Jovita wrote “Working women know their rights and proudly rise to face the struggle. The hour of their degradation is past…. Women are no longer servants but rather the equals of men, companions to them”

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