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Dolores Huerta: J. Mejía

Her name is Dolores Huerta. One of the many names and women forgotten in history. Born on April 10, 1930, Huerta is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century.

However, her name is quickly drowned out. She is the daughter of Alicia and Juan Fernandez. She was raised by her mother and grandfather once her parents divorced. Her mother was a waitress and a cannery worker and saved up enough money for a small hotel and restaurant. Her mother was also a community activist and was recognized for treating her employees exceptionally well which greatly influenced Dolores. She taught school in the 1950s for a brief period of time and saw many farm workers children arrive hungry to school due to poverty and the lack of basic necessities. This inspired Dolores Huerta to begin organizing farmers and farm workers to rid the system of unjust treatment.

Dolores Huerta founded the Agricultural Workers Association where she lobbied politicians on allowing non-U.S. citizen migrant workers to receive public assistance and pensions. She also lobbied to create Spanish-language voting ballots and driver’s tests. Huerta co-founded the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization where she created and hosted voter registration drives and fought for economic improvements in the LatinX community. This is when she met Cesar Chavez. They both created and organized protests throughout California and worked well together. The two also founded the National Farm Workers Association which would become the predecessor of the United Farm Workers.

However, Dolores Huerta is not boasted about as prominently as Cesar Chavez. It could be due to many reasons. Maybe because she is a woman, maybe because she was the organizer but not the public speaker of the farm workers’ movement, maybe because she is a Latina woman and double minorities are less acknowledged. Dolores Huerta needs to be recognized more when teaching history because, if it wasn’t for Huerta, many contracts, protests, and events would not have happened to further the Farm Workers Movement. Her and Cesar Chavez were equals when it came to fighting for the rights of farm workers. She helped organize the 1965 Delano strike where 5,000 grape workers declared better treatment. She negotiated contracts, advocated for the elimination of pesticides, and fought for unemployment and healthcare benefits for the workers. Her tough work led to a union contract in the 1970s as well as the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975.

Today, Dolores Huerta continues to fight for the rights of the working poor, women, and children. Huerta also has a foundation, The Dolores Huerta Foundation, which creates leadership opportunities by community organizing, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the areas of health and environment, education and youth development, and economic development. She has been recognized and honored by President Clinton through the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, the Puffin Foundation Award for Creative Citizenship, the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award, and the Smithsonian Institution’s James Smithson Award. Her most prestigious award was presented by Barack Obama. He gifted her the highest civilian honor one may receive in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Upon her acceptance of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Huerta said, “The freedom of association means that people can come together in organization to fight for solutions to the problems they confront in their communities. The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights.”

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only. It is not to be assumed that the opinions are those of GALEO or the GALEO Latino Community Development Fund. For the official position on any issue for GALEO, please contact Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO at jerry@galeo.org.

Works Cited:

“Dolores Huerta.” National Women’s History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/dolores-huerta.

“Huerta, Dolores.” SpeakOut, www.speakoutnow.org/speaker/huerta-dolores.

“United Farm Workers.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Mar. 2019, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Farm_Workers.

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