Chicana educator, organizer, and labor advocate Carmen Miranda was born in Eagle Pass, Texas in 1951. Her parents were migratory field workers who traveled through Texas, Washington, and Idaho for work. Miranda labored alongside her parents as they worked the cotton, strawberry, sugar beet, onion, and potato circuits. That field work was taxing and dangerous. As an adult, she continued agricultural labor and worked in packing sheds and operated “diggers” (a type of heavy farm machinery). Miranda worked throughout four pregnancies and attributes a birth defect of one of her children to potatoes hitting her abdomen while working in a packing shed.
In 1972, Miranda moved to Seattle from Pasco, Washington in search of a life outside of the fields. She discovered El Centro de la Raza soon after it was founded and was an early volunteer. Her husband took advantage of the services offered by El Centro and earned his general education diploma (GED) with the center’s assistance. Miranda’s initial volunteer work was in food preparation and with the children of the José Martí Child Development Center (a service offered by El Centro), which was then located at a nearby church.
Miranda credits El Centro de la Raza with her political development and passion for civil rights. Talking to Roberto Maestas and Estela Ortega during the center’s early years exposed Miranda to the possibility of a different reality Maestas introduced her to new political ideas, ones that challenged Miranda’s assumption that she was only valuable as a farmworker that toiled in the fields. Estela Ortega was a source of motivation and support when Miranda re-examined gender roles and remade herself through education, work, and activism.
Life experiences and El Centro de la Raza have combined to transform Miranda into an advocate of social justice. Her history demonstrates that Chicana action is not limited to university students, but encompasses a wide array of individuals outside of academia. Throughout her long career of teaching children at José Martí, Miranda has remained dedicated to workers’ rights (regardless of citizenship status) and to immigration reform (she was arrested during Seattle’s immigration rally in 2010). On a more personal level, Miranda has contended with Seattle Public Schools for the fair education of her grandchildren, knowing very well that education is a vital civil right. Whether with employers, principals, or in zip-tie handcuffs, Miranda continues to work for a world where no person will undergo the trials she has experienced.
Carmen Miranda shared her life experiences with Michael D. Aguirre on August 30, 2011 at El Centro de la Raza.