Multicultural Book Talk

That's Not Fair! : Emma Tenayuca's struggle for justice


The book tells the story of a young compassionate girl, Emma Tenayuca, and her early experiences with the injustices in her community of San Antonio. In her early twenties she took action and led 12,000 Mexican American workers in the historic pecan shellers strike. This strike aided in gaining civil rights and justice for Mexican Americans.

Information About the Book

Title: That's Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca's Struggle for Justice

Author: Carmen Tafolla & Sharyll Teneyuca

Illustrator: Terry Ybanez

Genre: Non-Fiction


  • Labor
  • Civil Rights
  • Justice
  • Compassion

Awards: n/a

About the Authors

Dr. Carmen Tafolla

Dr. Carmen Tafolla is an internationally published writer. She is the author of many children's stories, books of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction works. She received the "Art of Peace" Award in 1999 from the President's Peace Commission of St. Mary's University for her literacy works that reflect peace, justice, and human understanding. Carmen lives in San Antonio with her family and is currently co-writing a full biography of Ms. Emma Tenayuca with Ms. Sharyll Teneyuca.

Ms. Sharyll Teneyuca

Ms. Sharyll Teneyuca, the niece of Emma Tenayuca, plans to carry on Emma's legacy of compassion for human beings and dedication to justice. She currently lives in San Antonio with her family and practices law. There she created the Community Service Program, which provides an alternative to incarceration for citizens unable to pay city fines.

About the Illustrator

Ms. Terry Ybanez

Ms. Terry Ybanez is a painter, a printmaker, and a respected and beloved artist in her hometown of San Antonio. She has illustrated 3 books, including That's Not Fair!/No es justo!, Hairs/Pelitos, and Christmas Tree: El Arbol de Navidad. She donates her time to paint murals that depict and honor significant San Antonio women, including Emma Tenayuca. Currently she teacher art in an inner-city high school.

Criteria for High Quality Multicultural Literature

1. Names of characters should be culturally authentic and their personalities should reflect believable attributes.

  • As the book is Non-Fiction, the main character Emma Tenayuca was a real person and the story depicted is historically and culturally authentic. Real photographs of the actual events illustrated in the book are shown at the back of the book along with a personal biography of Emma. Emma is portrayed as using her compassion for others to right the injustices in her community. These values have continued in her family line and her niece wrote this book in order to tell her story and continue her aunt's legacy.

2. Social issues and conflicts related to cultural groups should be treated honestly, accurately, and openly.

  • The book depicts Mexican American workers and their struggle for civil rights and justice. It reflects the conditions the workers had to suffer through to try and provide for their families through the illustration shown above and the descriptions of the Mexican American families portrayed in them.

3. Illustrations should reflect accurate cultural setting.

  • The illustrator for the book based her illustrations on historical photographs of Emma and San Antonio as well as her own observations and experiences from growing up there. Both authors and the Illustrator are from San Antonio and are familiar with the cultural setting. The illustrations depict accurate scenes from events that actually took place and the real photographs are shown in the back of the book, which verify their authenticity.

Classroom Teaching Application

Grade Level: 4

Common Core ELA Standard: RL.4.2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

Teaching Objective: The student will identify the theme of a text, summarize the main ideas, and relate the theme to their lives.

  • The lesson will begin by asking the students what justice and fairness means. The students would share their ideas and then I would define justice and fairness.
  • I would ask them if they had ever been in a situation that they thought was unfair or unjust. I would have them share their examples.
  • Then I would read the book aloud to the students and I would have them discuss how Emma shows compassion to the struggling Mexican Americans in her community.
  • Afterwards the students would identify the theme of the book in pairs. Then I would have them come up with examples of injustice from the book and we would record them on the board together.
  • Then I would have them write in their literacy journals their reaction to the book and how they might have responded to the injustices in the book if they were Emma.

Introduction and Reading

APA Citation

Tafolla, C. (2008). That's not fair!: Emma tenayuca's struggle for justice. San Antonio, Texas: Wings Press.


That's Not Fair Excerpt by alriess