Olga Talamante was 11 years old when her parents plucked her from Mexico to drive their family across the U.S. border, settling in Gilroy, California. Five decades later, Talamante will be riding in a red low-rider convertible during Sunday’s LGBT Pride Parade as one of six community grand marshals selected by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee for their outstanding contributions to the LGBT community.
“It’s an amazing honor,” Talamante said. “I’ve had a lot of public life, but to be acknowledged is very humbling. I feel fortunate to be one among many deserving people.”
Immigrating to the U.S. was tough on Talamante as a young girl. Now 62, she remembers being held back in school because she didn’t know English. After-school jobs were always waiting once class ended. Long hours were spent harvesting crops in the fields alongside her parents and other farm workers without water or bathrooms during summer. Sometimes she would even babysit for the growers’ families and witness firsthand the amenities that were missing from the labor camp where she lived.
“What struck me at a young age was the power relationship between the workers and the growers,” Talamante said, “the control they had over our pay and even where we lived. It wasn’t so much like I envied what they had, but we worked really hard so we deserved to have good living conditions, too.”
That was the point at which the seed for Talamante’s community organizing was planted. Literally and metaphorically, she joked.
After learning English, she skipped a grade and moved through school easily, taking the college prep classes with the “privileged” kids and getting involved in student body activities all the while returning to the labor camp in the evenings. As if it wasn’t difficult enough maneuvering between the worlds of race and class, add Talamante’s being lesbian to the mix.
“In high school, I had the boyfriends but the crushes and yearnings for the girls,” she said. “There was definitely a feeling of aloneness. My junior year, I wrote a poem called ‘My Two Worlds.’ I wondered where I belonged, who I was.”
Talamante was accepted into UC Santa Cruz where she earned a degree in Latin American studies. There, she was active in the Chicano Movement, the Farm Workers Movement, the anti-Vietnam War peace movement, and in protests to increase representation of people of color in the school’s faculty. She became a U.S. citizen during college as well.