The Bay Area has a storied legacy of activism, from the Black Panthers to anti-gentrification movements. But as San Jose State University art student Estefania Bautista investigates in her portrait series Viva La Mujer, history often forgets the work and power of the women within those same communities.
Bautista recently spoke with KQED about the visibility her work brings to female leaders from the ’60s and ’70s freedom movements and the importance of education in activism.
How did your series Viva La Mujer begin?
I took my inspiration from my Mexican American history class with Professor Covarrubias, who made sure to talk about the female perspective in history. I just thought it was so cool to learn about these women who were very active in their community, but who we don’t usually learn about. While I was taking a break from studying, I decided to draw one of them — I started off drawing a portrait of the Brown Beret women, then I added a representation from the Black Panthers and a portrait of Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather. As I learned and learned about these other women, my research began to take me outside the classroom.
How did you decide which subjects to create portraits of?
Because of white-dominant history classes, we know even less about women of color, so I specifically picked portraits of women in groups like the Young Lords, which was a Puerto Rican group inspired by the Black Panther Party, and Dolores Huerta, who is mostly known for helping Cesar Chavez but was also one of the most vocal people debating farm owners and politicians for labor rights. I’m using these portraits to teach people about these women who have opened doors for us — we are thanking them and continuing their legacy by providing back to our communities.
What do you hope people take away from the series?
Trump’s inauguration and election inspired me to educate other people and remind them that this history is not in the past, we’re continuing it. I hope it makes us think about what we’re doing in our lives and how it’s our legacy to fight back. It’s really important to know that there is a history of resistance. Even though today seems so complicated and difficult because people are being criminalized and oppressed, knowing that we have fought back before will hopefully inspire people to continue and actually do something, whether it’s to protest or to teach someone else about our history.
What do you think young people can do to contribute to the movement?
I think college students can get involved in the community by getting educated on issues and their history and to organize and take action from there. I’m just a college student so I’m still trying to figure out my role, but I think that because of what’s happening in the world, I’ve had more of a clear understanding of what I can do to contribute. I plan on adding other women from other decades in the Viva La Mujer series, for example, and making this a lifelong project.