Each February the United States honors important people and events in the history of the African diaspora during Black History Month. At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health we’re honoring our Afro-Latin@ hermanos y hermanas by remembering the life and contributions of an Afro-Latina poderosa that was a leader in Peru’s women’s and human rights movements.
María Elena Moyano Delgado (1958-1992) was an Afro-Peruvian activist, organizer, and feminist who fought tirelessly for both women’s and human rights. Known to her followers as Madre Coraje, (Mother Courage), María Elena fearlessly led social justice movements for dignity, freedom, and equal political participation in Peru.
As a teen she became a member of the youth movement, Movimiento de Jóvenes Pobladores, in Villa El Salvador – the vast shantytown outside of Lima where she resided. At age 24, she was elected president of the Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador, which was a union of women who worked for the greater good of the shantytown. During her presidency she organized and contributed to several initiatives, including health programs, public kitchens, committees for basic education, and the Vaso de Leche program, which was created to supply children and the elderly with a glass of milk each day. Her social programs touched tens of thousands of people, with an estimated 30,000 diners served daily at soups kitchens and 60,000 people served through the Vaso de Leche program. After her tenure with Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador she was elected deputy mayor of Villa El Salvador and continued to fight against poverty and other social ills.
However, as a self-proclaimed socialist and vocal defender of basic human rights, María Elena became a target for Shining Path – a Maoist guerilla insurgent organization in Peru. She was assassinated at age 33 at a Vaso de Leche meeting due to her unquenchable thirst for societal change. Her murder, considered martyrdom by many, was intended to serve as a warning for others involved in the women’s and social justice movements. As a result of her death there was a public outcry and Shining Path was condemned. At her funeral an estimated 300,000 people accompanied her coffin, and later a statue was erected in her honor at a central Villa El Slavador plaza. She is survived by a husband, two children and an enduring legacy of hope and Afro-Latin@ power in Peru.
While February is designated as Black History Month, NLIRH believes that we should honor our Afro-Latina poderos@s three hundred and sixty-five days of the year.