Dolores Huerta in 2016
Dolores Clara Fernández|
April 10, 1930
Dawson, New Mexico
|Occupation||Labor leader and activist|
Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta (born April 10, 1930) is an American labor leader and civil rights activist who was the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers', immigrants', and women's rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Born on April 10, 1930, in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico, Huerta was the daughter of Juan Fernández—a miner, field/farm worker, union activist, and state assemblyman—and Alicia Chávez. Huerta was the couple's second child and only daughter; the couple divorced when Huerta was three years old. Chávez raised Huerta and her two brothers in the central California farm worker community of Stockton, California. Huerta's mother was known for her kindness and compassion towards others and was active in community affairs, numerous civic organizations, and the church. She encouraged the cultural diversity that was a natural part of Huerta's upbringing in Stockton. Alicia Chávez was a businesswoman who owned a restaurant and a 70-room hotel where she welcomed low-wage workers and farm worker families for affordable prices and sometimes even for free. Her mother is the reason behind her caring and willingness and attitude to help farm workers later on in her life. Her mother was a very involved woman within the community. In an interview she claimed “The dominant person in my life is my mother. She was a very intelligent woman and a very gentle woman”. This prompted Huerta to think about civil rights. Her mother’s generous actions that she displayed when Dolores was a child is the reason why she has developed her non-violent strong spiritual force. In the same interview she said “When we talk about spiritual forces, I think that Hispanic women are more familiar with spiritual forces. We know what fasting is, and that it is part of the culture. We know what relationships are, and we know what sacrifice is”.
Huerta's community activism began when she was a student in Stockton High School. Huerta was active in numerous school clubs and was a majorette and a dedicated member of the Girl Scouts until the age of 18. In school she remembers a teacher accusing her of stealing another student’s work and giving her an unfair grade, an act she considers to be based in racial bias. Having lived life as a minority being sidelined because of her Hispanic origin, she grew up knowing that there were things in the society that needed to be changed. Huerta attended college at the University of the Pacific's Stockton College (later to become San Joaquin Delta Community College), where she earned a provisional teaching credential. After teaching grammar school, Huerta left her job and began her lifelong crusade to correct economic injustice:
I couldn't tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.
Career as an activist
In 1955, Huerta officially began her career as an activist by helping Frank Ross start the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization, which fought for economic improvements for Latinos. Due to her dedication and willingness to serve, Ross often delegated huge responsibilities to her. He knew she was capable of delivering the organization's message and promoting its agenda. “As she assumed responsibilities and stance that were traditionally held by white males, Huerta encountered criticism based on both gender and ethnic stereotypes” In 1960, Huerta co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association which set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements. In 1962, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez, which would later become the United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. In 1966, she negotiated a contract between the UFWOC and Schenley Wine Company, marking the first time that farm workers were able to effectively bargain with an agricultural enterprise. Through her work with the CSO, Huerta met César Chávez, the Executive Director of the CSO. The two quickly realized that they shared a common goal of helping better the lives and wages of farm workers. Many great things came from this friendship, such as the National Farm Workers Association. They both soon realized the need to organize farm workers. In 1962, after the CSO turned down Chávez's request, as their president, to organize farm workers, Chávez and Huerta resigned from the CSO. She then went to work for the National Farm Workers Association which would later merge with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. “Dolores’ organizing skills were essential to the growth of this budding organization.”
She helped in co-founding the national farm workers association with Cesar Chavez. The foundation was later changed to affiliated agricultural workers organization. Through the organization, she helped champion for the rights of workers in agricultural fields to ensure they were well remunerated and worked in better conditions.
In 1965, Huerta directed the UFW's national boycott during the Delano grape strike, taking the plight of the farm workers to the consumers. She led to the organization of boycotts advocating for consumer rights. The boycott resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers in 1970.
In addition to organizing she has been highly politically active, lobbying in favor of (and against) numerous California and federal laws. The laws that she supported included the following:
- 1960 bill to permit people to take the California driver's examination in Spanish
- 1962 legislation repealing the Bracero Program
- 1963 legislation to extend Aid to Families with Dependent Children to California farmworkers
- The 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act
As an advocate for farmworkers' rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times for participating in non-violent civil disobedience activities and strikes. She remains active in progressive causes, and serves on the boards of People for the American Way, Consumer Federation of California, and Feminist Majority Foundation.
On June 5, 1968, Huerta stood beside Robert F. Kennedy on a speaker's platform at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he delivered a victory statement to his political supporters shortly after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. Only moments after the candidate finished his speech, Huerta was a safe distance behind Kennedy as he and five other people were wounded by gunfire inside the hotel's kitchen pantry. Only 15 min before the shooting, Huerta had walked through that pantry alongside the US Senator from New York while Kennedy was on his way to deliver his victory speech. Kennedy died from his gunshot wounds on June 6.
In September 1988, in front of the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square, Huerta was severely beaten by San Francisco Police officers during a peaceful and lawful protest of the policies/platform of then-candidate for president George H.W. Bush. The baton-beating caused significant internal injuries to her torso, resulting in several broken ribs and necessitating the removal of her spleen in emergency surgery. The beating was caught on videotape and broadcast widely on local television news, including the clear ramming of the butt end of a baton into Huerta's torso by one of the helmeted officers. Later, Huerta won a large judgment against the SFPD and the City of San Francisco, the proceeds of which were used for the benefit of farm workers. The assault is credited with starting yet another movement to change SFPD crowd control policies and the manner in which officer discipline is handled.
Following a lengthy recovery she took a leave of absence from the union to focus on women’s rights. She traversed the country for two years on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the year 2000 Campaign encouraging Latinas to run for office. The campaign resulted in a significant increase in the number of women representatives at the local, state and federal levels. She also served as National Chair of the 21st Century Party founded in 1992 on the principles that women make up 52% of the party’s candidates and that officers must reflect the ethnic diversity of the nation.
Huerta is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she founded in 2002. The Dolores Huerta Foundation is a 501(c)(3) "community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: health & environment, education & youth development, and economic development."
Huerta was named one of the three most important women of the year by Ms. Magazine in 1997. She was an inaugural recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President Bill Clinton in 1998. That same year, Ladies' Home Journal recognized her as one of the 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century, along with such women leaders as Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, and Indira Gandhi.
She was awarded the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship in 2002. On September 30, 2005, she became an honorary sister of Kappa Delta Chi sorority (Alpha Alpha chapter - Wichita State University). She received an honorary degree from Princeton University in recognition of her numerous achievements May 2006. She was lauded in the ceremony: "Through her insatiable hunger of justice —La Causa— and her tireless advocacy, she has devoted her life to creative, compassionate, and committed citizenship." She was co-recipient (along with Virgilio Elizondo) of the 2007 Community of Christ International Peace Award .
She was recognized by United Neighborhood Centers of America with its highest individual honor, the Jane Addams Distinguished Leadership Award at its National Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. in December 2008. She was awarded the UCLA Medal, UCLA's highest honor, during the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony on June 12, 2009. She is one of the subjects of the Sylvia Morales film A Crushing Love (2009), the sequel to Chicana (1979).
In October 2010, she was awarded an honorary degree by Mills College, who lauded her as "a lifetime champion of social justice whose courageous leadership garnered unprecedented national support from farmworkers, women, and underserved communities in a landmark quest for human and civil rights". The same month, she also was awarded an honorary doctorates by University of the Pacific, which also unveiled an official portrait of her for the Architects of Peace Project by artist Michael Collopy.
Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on May 29, 2012. She is an Honorary Chair of Democratic Socialists of America and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Equality California.
Four elementary schools in California; one school in Fort Worth, Texas; and a high school in Pueblo, Colorado, are named after Huerta. One of the student centers at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California, is named the Huerta Learning Circle Room in the labor leader's honor. A soon-to-be built middle school in the major agricultural city of Salinas, California, which has a dense population of farm workers, will be named after Huerta. She was a speaker at the first and tenth Cesar Chavez Convocation. In 2013, Huerta received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
Huerta's Political Engagement
Huerta can also be described as a woman who engaged in politics and primarily focused on labor union rights. Her engagement in politics was due to the support she gave to Robert F. Kennedy during the California election. The two shared similar political ideologies because of the civil society. Dolores was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night of Kennedy's assassination and was on stage with him shortly before he was shot.
Huerta married Ralph Head in college. During their marriage they had two daughters, Celeste and Lori. After divorcing Head, Huerta married Ventura Huerta with whom she had six children, including Congress candidate Emilio Jesus Huerta. Their marriage ended over disagreements over many issues including her community involvements. Later Huerta had a long romantic relationship with Richard Chavez, the brother of César Chávez. Huerta and Chávez never married, but the couple had four children during their relationship. Richard Chávez died on July 27, 2011.
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|Library resources about |
|By Dolores Huerta|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dolores Huerta.|
- Dolores Huerta Foundation
- Dolores Huerta Celebrates 80th Birthday with Call for "Weaving Movements Together" - video report by Democracy Now!
- Biography at Las Culturas