Women’s Rights Activist Keeps Family Close

By Jen Lewis

Long-time Democratic Party activist Clara Padilla Andrews learned about political parties from her grandfathers; the strength of women’s opinions, from her grandmothers.

Andrews, current president of the New Mexico Federation of Democratic Women and New Mexico Secretary of State from 1983-86, has been an activist her whole life. A native New Mexican, she was president of the Portland, OR Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and in 1996 became publisher of El Hispanic News, a prizewinning monthly bilingual newspaper with a circulation of over 20000 readers whose purpose is to build an awareness of Hispanic issues and accomplishments too often overlooked in mainstream media.  In 2009, she launched Más New Mexico, a bilingual weekly, available online at http://www.masnewmexico.com

“One of my grandfathers was a Republican and the other was a Democrat,” she said as she recounted political debates between them at the family table in Los Padillas neighborhood of Albuquerque’s South Valley.  “So, at least by age five, I knew there were political parties. My grandfathers—and all of us– cared about politics and [our discussions] got pretty heated.”

Luckily for the Democratic Party, Padilla Andrews was drawn more to her Democratic grandfather’s politics,  as the Democrat “was more of an activist, and I liked that.” Her grandmother was just as involved, however. “Sometimes my grandfather would say he was backing a candidate, but my grandmother would say ‘No!  He’s not good for people,’” swaying the endorsement to her point of view. “So I also knew early on that women have their own strong ideas.” 

As she has throughout her life, Padilla Andrews strongly supports women’s rights today.  “Women understand their own rights,” she said.  “We have our own minds and opinions.  We’re strong enough and smart enough to understand issues and make our own decisions,” she said, adding that to act otherwise is nonsense.

Now Andrews is a grandmother herself, maintaining the close family ties that supported a lifetime of political activism.  She and her husband, Frank, have returned from Oregon to New Mexico and stay close to their grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Two granddaughters are carrying on the family businesses and traditions, and she will go into business with a nephew at Albuquerque’s Stoic Coffee Company in a matter of weeks.   

Just as she involved herself in her grandfather’s activism, she involved the next generations in hers, involving them in her political campaigns even as children.  However, times have changed for some as families scatter.  Unlike the next generations, she said, “As a young mother, I never had to worry about a babysitter.  There were my parents, my grandparents, aunts and uncles for support.  It was so different then.” 

 Despite recognizing that many lack family support these days, Padilla Andrews encourages women to run for state, county, city and school board offices, in keeping with her belief that activism is central to the democratic process. “We need to keep being involved,” she said.  “The next generation needs to know they’re needed.  We have to stay open to the new and keep opportunities for next generations to be involved. That preserves democracy.”

Padilla Andrews has been a leader for women’s rights and for the dignity and recognition of the rights of Hispanic communities for decades. However, she said, “I don’t consider myself a leader.  I’m a doer.”