Born in Dawson, New Mexico, in 1930, Chicana activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta stood up for farm workers, and in the process fought for POC, Latinxs, women, and all of humanity. Alongside the equally-iconic Chicano activist Cesar Chavez, Huerta didn’t allow anyone to stop their momentum and desire to have farm workers treated with fairness and respect. Because of her, changes were made in government to protect laborers’ rights, workers felt more comfortable striking, and contracts were drawn up that finally gave field workers a desperately-needed voice.
Dolores Huerta is a legend. Her image is emblazoned on T-shirts, posters, and any other item that needs a hero on it. She is considered a hero of the people, and a source of major orgullo Chicano and Latino. You know her name, recognize her face and know more or less why we celebrate Dolores on the daily. But in an effort to know more than what’s on the surface of our Latinx icons, we wanted to commemorate May Day, also known as International Workers Day (May 1), by also celebrating Dolores Huerta with some knowledge on her life and work. Here are 15 things you should know about the iconic, legendary Latina Dolores Huerta.
Dolores Huerta was a teacher
Like other icons, such as Celia Cruz and La Lupe, Dolores Huerta initially set out to become a teacher. She taught in the Stockton, California area in which she was raised. Dolores, the daughter of a union activist father, and a mother who would often give farm workers free housing in her hotel, saw how the children she taught would show up to class hungry and barefoot, and decided it was time to advocate for change.
“Si Se Puede” came from her
You’ve seen and heard the phrase “si se puede” a bunch of times. You’ve also seen it in English, as part of President Obama’s presidential campaign in the form of “yes we can.” These are three words that are so powerful, letting the world know that all those limitations to your goals are imaginary — you can do it! These iconic three words came from Dolores Huerta, who first used them when trying to organize Latino professionals to support Cesar Chavez’s fast for the right to protest. When they told her that organizing couldn’t be done in Arizona (versus California), they said “no se puede,” to which she replied “si se puede!”
Huerta co-founded important organizations
Dolores Huerta was on the front line of major changes and at the helm of the inception of new, now legendary organizations. Huerta co-founded the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) in 1955, and in 1962, with Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which became the United Farm Workers’ Union (UFW).
She helped organize the Delano Grape Strike
Part of Dolores Huerta’s legacy includes helping to organize the historic Delano Grape Strike of 1965. Dolores and Cesar joined over 5,000 Filipino-American farm workers — the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) — led by Larry Itliong to strike over low wages. A boycott ensued, which meant that people were encouraged to not buy grapes or wine unless a union label was present on the final product. The power of this strike led to the AWOC and the NFWA joining forces to become the union the United Farm Workers (UFW) and led to a collective bargaining agreement with table grape growers.
Dolores negotiated the first successful laborer bargaining agreement
We briefly touched on this in the previous slide, but it’s a feat worth mentioning again. In 1966, Dolores Huerta successfully negotiated a contract between the United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the Schenley Wine Company. This marked the first time that farm workers were successfully able to negotiate with “an agricultural enterprise.”
April 10 is Dolores Huerta Day
Dolores Huerta’s birthday is April 10, 1930, and it’s a day that deserves to be celebrated. Those in politics definitely think so. In July of last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes’ law AB 2655 into effect, making April 10 Dolores Huerta Day in California. Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington, followed suit this year in March, also designating April 10 as Dolores Huerta Day in the Evergreen State.
She has been awarded the presidential medal of freedom
One of Dolores Huerta’s major achievements was being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama bestowed the honor on the Chicana activist and labor leader on May 29, 2012. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, is the highest honor the United States can bestow on a civilian. “It recognizes those people who have ‘made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.'”
And a slew of other honors
Dolores Huerta has been given several other awards and honors. These include the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, the UCLA Medal, honorary doctorates at several universities, the Outstanding Labor Leader Award for the California State Senate, the American Civil Liberties Union Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award and many more. This year, on May 31, Dolores will receive the prestigious Radcliffe Medal from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
There are several schools named after Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta was an educator, who went on to fight for the rights of others, including children, so it’s only fitting that there are several schools named after her. These include four schools in California, one in Texas, one in New Mexico, and another in Colorado.
Huerta served on the U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers
Dolores Huerta’s work for agricultural workers’ rights extended to working directly with the U.S. government. From 1988 to 1993, she served on the United States Commission on Agricultural Workers, which was “established by Congress to evaluate special worker provisions and labor markets in the agricultural industry.”
Dolores was the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame
It is an achievement that Dolores Huerta was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. But did you know that when she was inducted, in 1993, she was also the first Latina to receive the honor? Huerta’s achievements have always performed the double duty of providing pride and inspiration for Latinxs and women everywhere.
Dolores Huerta also fights for women’s rights
In addition to being a tireless advocate for farm laborer rights, Dolores Huerta has dedicated her work to advocating for women’s rights. She was raised in a Latinx household where she was treated as equals with her brothers and carried this sense of equality into her feminist work. Today she serves as a board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
She was the honorary co-chair of the Women’s March in Washington
Dolores Huerta is not just a hero for Latinxs and labor workers, but also for women in general. She is a celebrated feminist and was named as the honorary co-chair for the 2017 Women’s March in Washington. The above photo shows Huerta marching in California during this year’s Women’s March, as a woman’s work is never done.
She founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation
There Are Films Dedicated to Dolores Huerta’s Life and Work
You know you’re a legend when the story of your life and work hits both the big and small screens. Dolores Huerta was played by Latinx actress Rosario Dawson in the 2014 film Cesar Chavez. There is also the documentary Dolores which was released in 2017.