A half-century ago this week, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers voted to join Larry Itliong and Filipino farmworkers’ in commencing the Delano Grape Strike. Their fight for justice would serve as a catalyst for the Latino civil rights movement and mark the beginning of more widespread acknowledgement of Latinas as movement leaders. But Dolores Huerta was not the first to lead Latinos towards justice, she was simply part of the next generation of Latina leaders in a long lineage of freedom fighters committed to empowering our communities.
Similarly, far from the fields of Delano, CA but rooted just as firmly in the heart of the Latino community, we find Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, a national social justice leader who has been fighting to reform the criminal justice system in Texas- a state whose tough on crime rhetoric has given it one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.
Born in Mexico, Dr. Yáñez-Correa immigrated to the United States at the age of 10, spending her teenage years working alongside her mother as a domestic worker. She would go on to earn a Ph.D. in Policy and Planning in Education Administration, focusing her dissertation on the school-to-prison pipeline, before becoming the Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), an organization that has been instrumental in shifting the state’s policy approach from “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” to a more smart-on-crime approach that advances policies that work for our communities.
Dr. Yáñez-Correa and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have been longtime allies of the Drug Policy Alliance in the fight to end the failed war on drugs. In 2012, Ana helped to welcome renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity to Austin. “We wanted to make sure that Austin created a space for these victims to speak to what they’ve been going through and to advocate for what they feel,” she said. “We felt like these people have gone through too much, and bureaucracy and governments have done very little to bring peace to what’s happening, so we just really wanted to help them.”
More recently, Dr. Yáñez-Correa and TCJC’s work caught the eye of Grammy award winning singer and social justice activist John Legend who launched his campaign to end mass incarceration in Texas. And Mr. Legend is not the only one to notice the impact of her work. The Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate had previously honored her for “working toward real solutions to the problems facing the Texas criminal justice system.”
Today, the Drug Policy Alliance acknowledges Dr. Yáñez-Correa’s tireless efforts to educating and organizing key stakeholders about the importance of ending the failed war on drugs. Her leadership working to unite Latinos throughout the country to fight for policies that can improve our communities has proved pivotal to creating opportunities for advancement and has been invaluable in fighting back the hateful, anti-Latino rhetoric being espoused by public figures.
To learn more about Dr. Correa’s work, we invite you to come hear her speak on a panel at our upcoming International Drug Policy Reform Conference set to take place in Washington D.C. this November.
Jerónimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This is part of a series dedicated to Hispanic Heritage Month commemorating the impact made by Latino drug policy reformers.