How Blanca Alvarado paved the way for future legislators

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — At 92 years old, Blanca Alvarado still makes time for her community.  

Affectionately nicknamed “La Madrina of East San Jose” – or “The Godmother” – Alvarado has continuously been recognized for her 60 years of activism.

KRON4 met with her inside of a tuition-free charter school in Alum Rock named in her honor: “Alpha: Blanca Alvarado.”

Raised by a coal miner in Colorado, Alvarado’s family came to San Jose when she was a teen for what was supposed to be a temporary stay while her father worked in the fields. When he got a permanent job as a foreman, Alvarado planted roots and went to work.  

She explains she was drawn to public service early on in high school.

“We wanted to raise money for the poor. We wanted to have food drives, clothing drives,” she says.

Later in life, Alvarado married but divorced. As a single mom to five children, she always kept a day job to support her family but remained deeply involved in grassroots movements.  

She worked alongside civil rights icons like Cesar Chavez to help start the United Farm Workers Union.

“The farm worker movement, I think, activated so many of us at a higher level,” Alvarado says. “We had been grassroots people for a long time looking for equality and justice in pursuit of our rights to achieve elevations within society.”

Then in 1978, Alvarado – who was already entrenched in the community – says a stranger walked into her office and introduced himself as a candidate for councilmember to represent East San Jose.  

That’s when she says it was time to take the lead herself so that someone familiar with the people and local issues would be at the helm.

“That was really the reason why I decided to run because I had no plans to run for the city council until that incident happened. And that was the spark. That was the motivator,” she said.

At 49 years old, Alvarado would be elected as the first Latina to the San Jose City Council in 1980, embodying the representation she so desperately wanted to see in local politics. She later moved on to serve as vice mayor and as a supervisor for Santa Clara County.

When asked if there’s pressure in being the first, Alvarado says it’s more important to her that she opened a door for people for whom it had been previously closed for generations.

From battling slumlords to creating a first-of-its-kind children’s health initiative and building the Mexican Heritage Plaza, Alvarado says she’s always strived to govern by reflecting the views and needs of the community.

The cultural hub still plays host to all kinds of festivities for everyone to enjoy.

“There were so many people who had this desire to have a place that they could call their own color our own, a place where we could show our talents and celebrate our festivals and celebrate who we are,” she says.

Alvarado is optimistic that the next generation will be inspired to continue a mission of caring for the people around them. How Blanca Alvarado paved the way for future legislators

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