Josefina Carrascoso Franco was a strong woman who devoted her life to community service and civil rights. She was born on Nov. 8, 1897, the daughter of Aristarco Carrascoso Alonso of Valladolid, Spain, a lawyer and mining engineer, and Josefa Vargas Sánchez of Chihuahua, Mexico. Josefina attended high school in El Paso and the Texas School of Mines. She also attended school in Mexico City, El Paso, TX and Juarez, Chih., Mexico. During her lifetime, it was easy to work and live in Juarez and El Paso, as the border was fluid and people thought of El Paso and Juarez as the same city.
Josefina began her lifelong work on behalf of the disadvantaged at an early age. Her family would stage shows, including Spanish dancing and Mexican Folkloric dancing to raise money for others less fortunate. In 1922 the local chapter of the Mexican Blue Cross “La Cruz Mexicana Azul,” was established in Juarez, and Josefina became a member and later its president.
Juarez suffered a devastating flood in 1923 and many were left homeless. As president of the Mexican Blue Cross, Josefina organized recovery efforts and worked with the American Red Cross in Texas and the national Mexican Blue Cross. She organized medical relief efforts and found clothing, housing and food for the victims. Her contribution to the relief efforts was front-page news of the El Paso Herald on Aug. 27, 1923. Her lifelong desire to be a community leader was forged during this disaster and the subsequent relief efforts. During the recovery efforts, Josefina met her husband, Jesus Franco. She was later able to help when Navajoa, Sonora suffered a devastating flood in 1949 and she organized relief efforts once again.
Josefina and Jesus moved to Phoenix in 1934. When they arrived there were deep cultural misunderstandings between the English and Spanish speaking communities. It was important to Josefina to build bridges between the two groups who were often segregated and to provide a space where Mexicans could celebrate their history, culture and heritage. The Francos quickly established the first annual Phoenix Fiestas Patrias celebration of Mexican Independence Day. It was important to her to have city and state officials participate and honor the tradition of the Grito ceremony, the reenactment of the cry for freedom given by Miguel Hidalgo in 1810. The event always included the Mexican Consul, reenacting the cry of independence, and the Governor of Arizona, or a high-level representative, ringing the bell of independence together, symbolizing the great partnership and friendship of Arizona and Mexico. This important practice and ceremony continues statewide today, and it brings together Arizonans of all cultures, classes, races and ethnicities to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday and the richness of Arizona’s cultural diversity.
Josefina and her husband started the Spanish language newspaper, El Sol, in 1937. She was a reporter, op-ed writer, then editor and publisher of the newspaper which had over 200,000 readers by 1970. El Sol became a strong symbol and resource for the Spanish-speaking community in Phoenix. It became the voice of Arizona’s Mexican and Mexican American communities to speak out against the persistent acts of racism and discrimination against them such as segregated elementary schools; the denial of equal access to public swimming pools or parks, and to public accommodations; and the repatriation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans to Mexico during the era of the Great Depression. Josefina wrote about the valuable contributions of Mexicans in Arizona and used it as a resource to talk about Mexican American educators, politicians, entrepreneurs, organizations, the average citizen, and others who made Arizona their home. The office of El Sol not only sold its newspaper, but it also sold Spanish-language newspapers and bilingual books for children and students and sheet music in Spanish, providing an important resource and link for Mexicans and Mexican Americans who wanted to learn more about the meaning of Pan-Americanism and America’s “Good Neighbor Policy.” She found solutions to many problems and the community cherished her tenacity and compassion. She also began a popular radio program on station KPHO and later on the Spanish-language station, KIFN in Phoenix.
During World War II, she was an avid seller of war bonds and took to the airwaves and newspaper to encourage others to help in the War effort. She brought together Mexican American and Anglo “Victory Labor Volunteers” in 1942 to pick cotton during a drastic labor shortage in the fields in Maricopa County. Josefina was always active with the Catholic churches who served the Mexican population and raised money for them to continue their work. She reached out to the less fortunate and destitute using her newspaper to make their situations and living conditions known.
Josefina stepped in to help farmworkers in El Mirage. It was brutally hot and the workers were living in cardboard shacks in the fields. Josefina quickly galvanized friends with trucks to drive down and bring everyone water. She brought many of the families to her home and called friends for donations. She used the El Sol to describe their conditions and demand justice.
One winter a group of farmworkers in Avondale were living in carton boxes with their families. Josefina heard about it and immediately went into action. In late March of 1950, the Mexican Blue Cross went into the agricultural camps and provided food and assistance to the families. Josefina brought press to the situation to shed light on how farmworkers were being treated. For these efforts, Josefina received the United Way’s Red Feather award from the Mexican-American Community of Maricopa County. She also received awards from the Red Cross for her continued support in helping those less fortunate or destitute due to unfavorable living conditions
Josefina was a small business owner, entrepreneur and journalist at a time when it was rare for women, especially ethnic minority women, to do so. She promoted better relations between Mexican-American and Anglo communities in Arizona. She reached out to the disadvantaged and less fortunate. She was a trailblazer and a strong and accomplished woman who left a tremendous legacy. September 16, 1955 was named Josefina Franco Day by the Governor McFarland as a testament to her dedication, tenacity and tireless work on behalf of the Mexican-American community.
Josefina died in Phoenix, Arizona on March 12, 1972.