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Celebrating Women’s History Month with Comadre Power

By Jennifer Esperanza, Senior Director of Organizational Culture and Strategy

March 1, 2024

I’ve been a credit union member most of my life, thanks to women. It all started with my mother Josefina (or “Josie” as she was called by her co-workers) who joined a credit union in the mid-1970s. Josie worked for more than 30 years for the telephone company in the drafting department, which was staffed mostly by women of Asian, Latina and African American descent.

These women grew tight bonds with one another over the years, and regardless of their backgrounds, they referred to one another as comadre—a Spanish term of endearment reserved for close female friends (and what you would call the godmother of your child).  The comadres’ job was to draft maps that utility workers needed in order to lay down new telephone lines. Aside from their shared responsibilities, the comadres also supported one another in their personal lives. This included navigating the complicated landscape of the American financial system. The phone company had its own Select Employee Group (SEG) credit union, and my mom’s African American comadres urged their immigrant co-workers to become members.

Through them, Josie learned that credit unions were trusted institutions for not only checking accounts, but had better rates for auto loans and mortgages, and offered savings accounts for her kids. The credit union became a trusted place for my mom to ask questions, if her comadres didn’t have an answer. Perhaps this is why, when I grew up, I trained to become an economic anthropologist: researching how financial cooperatives improve the financial well-being of households around the world. And yet, there is still so much work to be done, especially in terms of women’s financial literacy, breaking the glass ceiling in leadership roles, and the long-standing problem of financial health gaps between men and women.

These issues can be addressed if we take the time to recognize how important social networks and word-of-mouth references are to credit union success. March is Women’s History Month which is a great time to share stories of how women, like the comadres, helped build and maintain the credit union movement, inspiring generations to come.

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