At an International Women’s Day celebration in Tucson, in front of a crowd of Latina changemakers, first lady Jill Biden spoke of U.S. leaders historically ignoring Latina’s voices, “and not because they haven’t spoken up.”

Biden joined the event at Tucson Mayor Regina Romero’s home as part of her Arizona tour.

Romero welcomed Biden at her front door, smiling and embracing the first lady. Biden entered the celebration to applause from the audience of about 50 people, mostly Latina leaders, on Romero’s backyard patio looking east at the city and the Rincon Mountains.

Romero said she will never forget a moment when she visited the White House with a group of Latina mayors and the first lady greeted them by saying the White House is our house, the people’s house. 

In turn, “I open my home to you,” Romero said.

In her speech, Biden recognized the voices — including those of Latinas — who were not heard or who were silenced throughout history.

“As suffragists and scientists, as pioneers and poets, as activists and Supreme Court justices, Latinas have shaped our nation since its very beginning,” Biden said. “But their contributions have not always been celebrated as they should be. And it’s time that our country do more to listen.”

Under a cloudless desert sky, standing before a sprawling view of Tucson, Biden recognized the untold stories of the nation’s past.

“There can be no women’s history without Latina history,” she said. “And there can be no American history without women’s stories.”

Biden said she was thinking of the women in Ukraine who are fighting to keep their country free and their families safe, as well as the Russian women who bravely speak out against the invasion.

She was thinking, too, of “all the women who have raised their voices, in big ways and small ways, from soft lullabies to battle cries for justice.”

‘Dedicated mujeres’

The women leaders stood next to each other. Romero told Biden she was in the presence of women changing the course of history. 

“In front of you are some of the most dedicated mujeres in the struggle for justice and equity in our community,” she said.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero

Many of the women were “firsts” in some way, Romero said. The first attorney in their family. The first in their family to graduate from college. The first in their family to vote in an election. 

Romero congratulated Biden for being the first First Lady to hold a doctorate. Biden congratulated Romero for becoming the first woman and Latina mayor of Tucson. 

“You are a trailblazer,” Biden told Romero. 

Romero said she wanted to celebrate women who have opened doors to others.

“Together we can imagine a world that is gender equal. Free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination,” she said to a crowd that included her children and other family.

“A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. And where we can reach across our differences to value and celebrate each other, our humanity and our values.”

Linda Mazon Gutierrez stood in the audience, watching and thinking on her own reasons for being here with others working for change.

Business owner Linda Mazon Gutierrez

Mazon Gutierrez is a first-generation American among other trailblazing firsts. Her mother was born in Mexico. She said her family fled their home during the Cristero War of 1926-1929.

She came to the women’s day celebration to support the idea that education elevates Latinas and to challenge the stark disparity that is the Latina pay gap. 

Latinas earned 57 cents for every dollar earned by White men in 2020, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Lean In.

Mazon Gutierrez started her education at a community college. She went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Arizona State University. Then she studied public policy at Harvard University through a fellowship for Latina leaders at the Kennedy School.

She is the principal owner of Poravion, a Tucson-based airport retail business, and the emeritus CEO of the Hispanic Women’s Corp., a Phoenix-based nonprofit that works for the advancement of Latinas.

Mazon Gutierrez appreciated Biden championing community colleges. Education made a difference in her life as a Latina leader. She believes it’s a key to empowering future generations.

 “Being able to get an education is going to elevate, especially Latina women, to where they need to get,” Mazon Gutierrez said.

Disparities in maternal mortality

Biden was joined on the tour by U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and Rep Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Becerra honored his wife, daughters and women staff members at the celebration. The country’s leaders, he said, must work to “make sure the door stays open” for opportunities for girls and women.

In his remarks, Becerra highlighted the Biden administration’s effort to extend Medicaid’s postpartum care benefits for low-income mothers from 60 days to 12 months in an effort to reduce the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. 

Arizona is not one of the states participating in the program.

While below the national average, the maternal mortality rate in Arizona is rising, according to the Arizona State Health Assessment. Arizona has a rate of 20.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 26.4 nationally. Ethnic disparities are large. The Arizona rate for Latinas is 90 and the rate for Indigenous women is 284 — four times higher than the rate of 70 for White non-Hispanic women.

Biden also visited Intel in Chandler, a Democratic National Committee finance meeting, and the San Xavier Health Center on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

At the health center, Biden and Becerra spoke about the Cancer Moonshot, an initiative to reduce the cancer death rate. The plans include more colon cancer screening for Indigenous people in Arizona in a partnership with the University of Arizona Cancer Center to reduce health disparities.

The next generation

After Biden left, a group of 30 women and girls gathered for a group photo to remember the moment.

Congressman Raúl Grijalva is cajoled into joining a group photo on International Women’s Day in Tucson. Photo by Irene McKisson.

Congressman Grijalva watched his wife, daughter and granddaughter join the group. A few camera clicks later, his daughter Adelita Grijalva — who is both a school board member and a county supervisor — yelled, “Dad, come take a picture!” 

She pointed to exactly where he should stand. He waved no, but the crowd cajoled him until he relented. He stood next to his wife and his daughter, surrounded by Latina leaders of the present and future, opening doors for the next generation.

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Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.