That's Not Fair! No es Justo!

Emma Tenayuca's struggle for justice


TITLE - That's Not Fair - Emma Tenayuca's struggle for justice

AUTHOR - Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca

ILLUSTRATOR - Terry Ybanez

GENRE - Biography - Juvenile Literature

THEME - Social change and justice

RECOGNITION - 2008's La Comadres Book Selection; Criticas Magazine's Best Children's Books of 2008

Tafolla, C., & Teneyuca, S. (2008). That's not fair! emma tenayuca's struggle for justice. San Antonio: Wings Press.




Setting should be representative of and consistent with historical or contemporary time, place or situation of a particular culture. Factual information describing a historical setting must be accurate in detail. Contemporary settings must align with current situations of a cultural group.

That's Not Fair is a true story of a woman named Emma Tenayuca who moved to San Antonio to live with her grandfather. At the tender age of 16 Emma got involved with the Labor Movement and joined a picket line for the strike against the Finck Cigar Company and was arrested. At the age of 21 she led her city's 12,000 pecan shellers in a fight for appropriate wages and better working conditions. She had a sensitive heart for the extreme poverty and injustice that Mexican-American worker endured. She had to leave San Antonio to find work because of how much trouble she stirred up but went and got her degree and came back 20 years later to teacher reading for migrant children.

"They [Grandpa and Emma] walked on, and saw people hard at work. Some were going into dark, dreary factories to shell pecans. Some entered elegant buildings."

" 'You must all stop working until the owners listen to you'. Said Emma. 'We will make a soup kitchen to feed your families. If we all help each other we can win'. 'No one will listen to you!' some people said. laughing at her. But 12,000 pecan shellers listened. The factories were almost empty. For nearly two months, the business made no money."


Themes should be consistent with the values, beliefs, customs, traditions, and social conflicts of the specific cultural group. Social issues and conflicts related to cultural groups should be treated honestly, accurately, and openly.

During this time period, many Mexican-American workers were laboring under inhumane conditions and they fought for their rights to reach social justice, fairness and equality.

'She passed a small shack that had no door. Inside, a baby was crying, as his mother tried to warm him with her thin arms and her thin shawl...'

'She passed a boy, maybe four years, old. In his hands were a few small pecans he was shelling and sharing with two younger brothers. They are eagerly as if that was all they would have today. The little girl knew they were hungry, and again, her eyes flashed.'

'We worked all summer , picking crops. But when it came time to get our pay, the farmer chased us away with a gun! Now we have no food and no place to stay!'

"One owner laughed. 'What does it matter that they are poor?' he said. 'They are Mexicans!' Emma knew this was not fair."


Language should reflect distinctive vocabulary, style, and patterns of speech of the cultural group. Dialect should be natural and blend with plot and characterization while not being perceived as substandard language. language should represent sensitivity to a people; derogatory terms should be excluded unless essential to a conflict or used in a historical context.

The song that the old man is singing in the story is an actual traditional song of migrant farm workers. In 1985 it was recorded on the album Caniones de mi padre by Linda Ronstadt.

'Sol que eres tan parejo

para repartir tu luz,

habrias de ensendarle al amo

pa' qu'el sea igual que tu.'

'Sun, you are s even, so fair,

as you share you light so equally with everyone.

You should teach my boss to be as fair as you'


Terry Ibanyez illustrated this book using the traditional Mexican mural art. It's reflective of this style with her use of bold colors and simple shapes. She frames every page with pecan tree's which is significant to the story's theme of the injustice the Mexican-American pecan shellers went through during this time period. I chose this particular example because it shows you the pecan tree's surrounding the illustration of a poor family that had just been cheated out of their pay and chased off the land facing homelessness, hunger and many hardships ahead.


Grade Level - 1

Standard - Reading Literature; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas RL.1.7: Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting or events.

Objective - Students will be able to describe the different characters in the book and identify the different perspectives of the characters.

Overview -

I want my children to relate to this by thinking on a smaller scale of a time when they felt things weren't 'fair', or when they saw some one else being treated unfairly and how it made them feel. I want them to tell me if they relate better to the pecan shellers or Emma based on their different experiences. I want to describe the illustrations and how the book is illustrated this way for a reason. This book could be part of a unit plan where we read literature from different cultures and compare the different illustration styles. I want them to show me they have learned about this event in time by writing a journal from either the perspective of the pecan shellers or Emma's perspective. I will read them an example of a journal I wrote so they can understand the concept. They will apply their knowledge later in the unit by providing me with 2 or 3 different perspectives from a different book instead of me telling them which perspectives there are.


Thats Not Fair! - Emma Tenayuca's struggle for justice by Hkinn