Woman of the People

For more than half a century, activist Olga Talamante has fought on behalf of the underdog.

Olga Talamante is no stranger to protesting.

In the 1970s, she became widely known for her imprisonment and torture in Argentina, where she was fighting for the political rights of workers, women, and students. In recent years, Talamante, now 67, has become renowned for her advocacy work and activism in Latino, LGBTQ, and other communities. A self-professed “change agent,” she serves on the boards of multiple local and national institutions and councils and is the executive director of the Chicana Latina Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarship and training to Latina college students.

At the age of 11, Talamante emigrated with her family from Mexico to Gilroy in the Central Valley in the hopes of finding work as farmers. By the time she was in high school, Talamante was politically active, protesting on behalf of farmworkers and working to get them unionized into the United Farm Workers of America.

In the early 1970s, Talamante attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a focus on Latin American Studies, and before she graduated, she went to Argentina to study abroad. It was 1973, the tail end of a multi-year military dictatorship that had started eight years prior as a result of the Argentine Revolution. For all intents and purposes, it was not the best time to travel to Argentina, and yet that’s exactly what Talamante did. She became involved with a progressive political group called Juventud Peronista that advocated for workers’, women’s, and students’ rights. When political upheaval struck, the country cracked down on public assembly, which is why Talamante was arrested and subsequently tortured and imprisoned.

Thanks to family and friends who organized a campaign called the “Olga Talamante Defense Committee,” Talamante was freed in March 1976 after spending 16 months in captivity. Upon returning to the U.S., she went straight to Washington, D.C., to educate Congress on human rights issues in Argentina. She returned to the Bay Area in 1978 and continued organizing on behalf of minorities and low-income people, as well as those afflicted by the AIDS epidemic.

As far as her current role with the Chicana Latina Foundation, where she has played an integral role since 2003, she says, “I want to empower Latinas so they could be part of the resistance and rebuild what has been dismantled.”

Talamante finds the Trump administration’s new immigration policies “disheartening” and says that she is concerned for today’s students who must grapple with fear and anger while constantly fighting for their rights.   

“We need to be prepared for the future,” she says. “Right now, we are seeing signs of what it might look like, and it doesn’t look good.”

Talamante urges documented immigrants to be more active and to take advantage of any and all legal resources and information that can provide protection for both themselves and those who are here illegally.

“Since we are not going to be deported, we are the ones who are going to have to stand in front of deportation lines,” she says.

In addition to making phone calls to representatives and attending town hall meetings and demonstrations, Talamante also stresses the importance of standing together in solidarity, regardless of differences in gender, race, or faith.

“We have to help each other and take turns and do whatever other actions we need to do,” she says. “Some of us are the object of these attacks — such as me, as a woman, Latina, and lesbian — but we are also allies with other people who are suffering, such as the members of our Muslim community.”  

In the end, though, Talamante says the best thing one can do to safeguard one’s rights and freedoms during the Trump presidency is to stay equipped.

“We need to be very much ready and vigilant, and we have to be sure to take care of ourselves and stay healthy,” she says, “because this is a long haul, and it’s real.”

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