I currently live in the Melbourne suburbs but vote in Illinois’ Seventeenth Congressional District, or as the locals call it, “The Fightin’ 17th.” This is an area in the Midwest where workers are proud to be unionized, farmers are gratified to know their agricultural products feed Americans from coast to coast, and Hispanic-Americans participate in all levels of government, reflecting the 17thDistrict’s diversity with pride.
In honor of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to pay tribute to someone else from this area of Northwest Illinois, Eva Savala. Savala is one of many notable Latinx activists from a town called East Moline located in the heartland of America.
Eva Savala was born in Iowa nearly a century ago to Mexican immigrants who struggled to make ends meet. Like millions of other Americans with brown skin, she herself experienced tough times during the 1950s and ‘60s when being a woman and a minority meant facing extreme discrimination within the community and the workplace. Nevertheless, Savala secured a job in a plant which manufactured truck parts, often facing sexual harassment at work. Wanting to persist on the job in order to bring home a livable paycheck, Savala eventually ran in a 1973 election to be a union leader within the United Auto Workers (UAW), and her political activism skyrocketed from there. An unwavering dedication to registering voters and fighting for fairness in the workplace led to her advancement in the UAW ranks, and time and again she earned the trust of Democratic officials.
As the first Hispanic female to be elected as a UAW international representative in 1987, Savala continued to work on labor and other issues important to Hispanic communities all over the country. Perhaps most importantly, she has been a go-to resource for Hispanic-Americans in Illinois seeking information about voting rights. She has worked tirelessly on issues with legends like César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, Senator Bobby Kennedy, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, and many other prominent U.S. lawmakers and activists.
In 1983, as a member of the Illinois Democratic Party, Savala successfully lobbied for ballots in both English and Spanish, making her home county the first in the state to distribute bilingual ballots.
Nowadays, 81-year-old Savala is retired and loving the winter holidays when her seven great-grandchildren visit. Yet, remarkably, she is still active in her local community by serving on several boards and continuing to be a respected force on the campaign trail in supporting Democratic candidates for office. As a proud Democratic Hispanic-American myself, I can only hope to achieve a fraction of Eva Savala’s many extraordinary accomplishments by the time my great-grandchildren ask me for my life stories.
Cantrell-Paulson, M & Turner, S 2014, “Interview with Eva Savala,” Augustana College Oral Histories, February, viewed on August 15, 2018, <http://collections.carli.illinois.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/aug_oralhis/id/94/rec/10>.
Knight, D 2008, “Activist: Eva Savala keeps on the go,” Quad Cities Online, March 30, viewed on August 15, 2018, <https://qconline.com/life/activist-eva-savala-keeps-on-the-go/article_cf35dd36-5b59-5eb4-90f0-a3183230aac4.html>.
Neuses, D 2016, “Eva Savala: the Latina godmother of politics in Rock Island County,” Hola America News, July 26, viewed on August 15, 2018, <http://holaamericanews.com/eva-savala-the-latina-godmother-of-politics-in-rock-island-county/>.
Weaver, J 2005, “Mujeres Latinas project: Savala, Eva,” University of Iowa, September 27, viewed on August 15, 2018, <http://migration.lib.uiowa.edu/exhibits/show/people/eva-savala>.