Sorry to burst your bubble; “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that Christmas classic since 1947, is a misogynist tale that haunts and informs us in so many ways, to our detriment. Think! Would Donna Reed’s character (“Mary”) really have lost her sight, doomed to wear glasses, without Jimmy Stewart in her life?

Movies we love and grew up watching should be judged in context of their time, but so many of them also handed us powerful myths; e.g., the fearful specter of an unmarried woman. “Mary would have been not only been single without him, but–gasp–a librarian!” (Gina Barreca, Ph.D., “The Problem with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Psychology Today, 18 Dec 21.)

Donna Reed played the role of Mary Hatch in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

That misogyny, carried out through other manifestations, haunts all women. It is especially difficult for Latinas to overcome. Here, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, they face triple discrimination—as a woman, as a woman in Texas, as a Latina. Overall, “young Latinos are dying of Covid at an alarming rate, eight times more than other ethnic groups.” The effect could be felt for generations. It will become harder for children to get an education and achieve upward mobility, with one or more parent dying of Covid. “It widens the class divide” (University of Southern California, Department of Preventative Medicine, in Los Angeles Times, 29 May 2021.) 

Texas in general, south Texas in particular, are especially hard-hit. “Hispanic women in Texas have among the lowest earnings of all groups,” amid the worst poverty rates and lack of employment opportunities (“Status of Women in the US South,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research–IWPR). Various groups are responding. 

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Council #291, alarmed by the crisis, voted to seek to aid those who provide information and access to vaccines in the Rio Grande Valley. Another human rights group, Nuestro Texas, has ties to the United Nations’ “Working Group on Discrimination Against Women.” It attempts to “shine a light” on the problem of a lack of reproductive health care in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest regions in the US.  Poverty and the prominence of diabetes are especially troublesome. Governor Abbot’s policies are notoriously vindictive. Particularly invasive are his recent decisions, skirting constitutional law (Right of Choice, 14th Amendment) by limiting access to reproductive health care. His previous orders reducing Covid vaccine protection and preventive measures against Covid are lamentable. 

But, other, non-governmental groups and individuals have worked for years to help Latinas and other Valley residents deal with poverty and related issues. Who can forget Sister Marian Strohmeyer (Rest in Peace) founder of Comfort House? Following the Biblical admonition to minister to the poor and needy are Sister Norma Pimentel, and other valiant women, who continue to work for women and families at the Respite Center, with Catholic Charities, in the Rio Grande Valley. They face great odds. 

Much of the research confirms the dire situation: Latinas face “deeply rooted structural inequalities in education, health, and economic opportunities.” This leads to an inability to build generational wealth. “Latinas earn only 55 cents for each dollar earned by non-Hispanic males” (“Latina Initiative,” American Association of University Women (AAUW). Women mean business; the underpayment for women means the economy in general is overlooking opportunities.    

Particularly devastating has been the effect on Latinas of Covid. Twenty-one percent lost jobs in the early days of the pandemic. Twenty-five percent still remain without access to health insurance (AAUW). Moreover, they suffer from a rate of hospitalization from Covid three times that of non-Hispanic Americans. Worse is the situation of those yet to be documented. They were excluded from the 2020 CARES Act (Covid Aid Relief and Economic Security), even though they are taxpayers. Many of them reside in the Rio Grande Valley.

However, we find some additional data that give reason for hope: Latinas, totally 30 million  (8.7% of US population) are “driving small business creation, breaking educational records, and are engendering increasing buying power.” (Hispanics Organized for Political Equality—HOPE). In addition, especially in south Texas, individual women are stepping forward in greater numbers, striving for political representation. 

They believe “Women should be in the House”—the House of Representatives. The Republican and Democratic Primaries are scheduled for March 1, 2022. Many Latinas are volunteering. Standing for election to be Republican nominee for Congress from District 15 are Monica de la Cruz Hernandez, Sara Canady, and Angela Juarez. Hoping to represent women and all citizens in District 15 are three Democratic candidates: Eliza Alvarado, Michelle Vallejo, and Vanessa Tijerina, each with her own special qualities and experience. 

These women seek political solutions. Most of them realize how serious are problems for women; a few of them promote participation of Latinas. Problems can seem overpowering. But responses are coming, even though they are erratic. A “wonderful” life eludes many. If the Jimmy Stewart from It’s a Wonderful Life is not now the appropriate model, nor the misogyny of that movie, then we need the Jimmy Stewart from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. That is, the role of “big money” in politics must be lessened. Washington and Austin must do more.

Greater Texas state government awareness and care for the special problems of Latinas and the Rio Grande Valley would be welcome. But, alas, Governor Abbott is focused—for his own partisan advantages–on his “Wall.” It is no longer Trump’s wall, but Abbot’s. Photo ops are taken, money received for that unsound, anti-environmental effort from billionaire Timothy Mellon, an out-of-stater from Wyoming. His big money comes from being a grandson of a banking tycoon. So, we regret, this is not quite a “Texas” solution. Appearances are trumping reason. Yes, Mary, it could be a wonderful life, if only we can make government work for the people! 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Guardian writer and retired educator Gary Joe Mounce. Mounce can be reached by email via: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a young Latina activist at a political rally in Edinburg, Texas in October 2020. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

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