Sonia Lopez was born in Sonora, Mexico. She immigrated at a young age to the United States, moving to Imperial Valley before settling in Calexico, a border town in California.
Lopez had a difficult childhood. Poverty controlled her life; her family didn’t have indoor plumbing, and in her interview, she struggles to hold back tears as she describes how it felt to come to school wearing other student’s hand-me-downs. Lopez’s father, an alcoholic, worked as a mechanic for farm machinery; her mother worked at local stores. With both parents out of the house, much of the housework and childcare fell on Lopez’s shoulders.
However, Lopez cites these difficulties as catalyst for change. In her interview, she says, “Living in poverty and knowing how much it hurts motivated me to say, I don’t want to be poor” (9:54). Because she wanted to escape poverty, Lopez worked hard to graduate from high school. Then, while most of her friends dreamed about getting married, Lopez set her sights on college. She attended community college before going to San Diego State through the Equal Opportunities Program in 1968.
It was in college that Lopez began to get involved with activism. College was a culture shock; she experienced stereotyping, and felt isolated and alone on campus. Joining MEChA completely changed her experience. She became, in her own words, a “political animal,” attending meetings all day, traveling across the state, and developing a Chicano Studies program. While involved with MEChA, Lopez became frustrated with the strict gender roles within the organization. Women were tasked with traditionally female jobs, like answering phones and cooking for the male members, all while being subjected to men’s predatory advances. While being a “feminist” had negative connotations, Lopez and her friends began to fight against these traditional gender roles; as Lopez says, “We were becoming feminists but not saying that we were becoming feminists” (2:37).
Lopez’s political involvement opened doors, but it also limited her ability to be a student. In 1970, she left San Diego State, putting schoolwork secondary to politics, and traveled around the country advocating for Chicana/o rights with figures like Corky Gonzalez, Reyes Lopez Tijerina, both of whom she openly challenged about sexist remarks. She later went to Sacramento to finish her coursework. When she finished school, Lopez returned to Calexico to help with a brother who was struggling with addiction, and remained in Calexico for several years, working as a counselor in the high school and as a campaign manager for a friend in 1975.
Lopez went on to teach as a professor, first at San Diego State, and then at Fullerton State. She also attended law school. Through studying law, Lopez became passionate about immigration reform, and began to work with undocumented youth. She remains active in Chicana/o rights, and acknowledges the positive social change she and other women have created. Lopez wants her experiences to help tell the story of many women who, forgotten by history, made a real difference in the Chicana/o movement.