ELIZABETH “BETITA” MARTÍNEZ, POLITICAL ACTIVIST
The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, Manuel Guillermo Martinez, who arrived in the United States in 1917 with only $10 in his pocket and rose to be professor of Spanish literature at Georgetown University, Elizabeth Martinez grew up in a bi-cultural home in suburban Maryland. Her mother, of Scottish-Irish background, was also a school teacher and social activist. In 1946, Betita graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in history and literature. In 1947 she began working for the United Nations, first as a translator and later (1948 to 1954) as a researcher and office administrator.
After a short stint with the Museum of Modern Art’s Photography Department (1957-1958,) she began to work as a full time editor for Simon & Schuster (1964-1967) and later became the Books and Art Editor for The Nation. With the advent of the African American civil rights movement, Elizabeth became active in the New York office of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1964. She was one of the few non-Blacks in a position of responsibility in that militant organization. She was active with SNCC traveling on organizational trips throughout the United States until 1967 when she became aware of the incipient Chicano civil rights movement.
In 1968, she decided to channel her passion for justice into the Chicano Movement and founded El Grito Del Norte, a Chicano monthly community newspaper with headquarters in EspaZola, New Mexico. She was active as a participant and reporter on many Chicano political events and issues throughout the heyday of the Chicano civil rights movement. She was active in the 1969 Denver Youth Conference, the 1970 Chicano Moratorium and the 1972 La Raza Unida National Convention. In 1973, she founded the Chicano Communications Center, an activist center which employed photography, theater and other media to educate Chicanos on their history and the social issues of the day. She directed the center until 1976.
By 1982, she had moved from New Mexico to San Francisco where she became Program Director for Global Options, a research and advocacy center for labor and social issues. In 1990 she was adjunct professor in Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies at California State University at Hayward and at Sonoma State University. Throughout her active career as a social justice advocate, she has lectured on issues of Chicano Studies, Latina women, multi-culturalism at more than 300 colleges and universities.
In 1997, she co-founded the San Francisco-based Institute for Multi-Racial Justice, a resource center to help build alliances and break down divisions among people of color. She was been editor of the Shades of Power, the newsletter of the Institute and of War Times, a national anti-war newspaper. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize in 2005 and her numerous awards for her activism include the Ruben Salazar Award of Inner City Struggle, the Frida Kahlo Award from the Chicano/Latino Research Center at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Charlotta Bass Award for Activist Journalism. Among her many books are Letters from Mississippi (1965), 500 Years of Chicano History (1975), De Colores Means All of Us (1998) and most recently, 500 Years of Chicana Women’s History (2008).