At the end of last month the much-anticipated biopic about Cesar Chavez opened in theaters across the country. While we were thrilled that this important story was finally being told on the big screen, we couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. In reality Dolores Huerta played an equally important role in the movement for farm workers’ rights. However, in the movie – much like in real life – her role isn’t always highlighted.
Therefore, we’re taking a moment to shine the spotlight on Huerta and her many contributions over the years in celebration of her 84th birthday. Huerta – who is consistently regarded as one of the most influential women of the 20th century – rose to prominence for dedicating her life to la lucha for equality, with a particular focus on farm workers’ rights, civil rights, and women’s rights.
Dolores Clara Huerta was born on April 10, 1930 in Dawson, NM. From an early age was exposed to the kindness of giving and the strength of feminism by her mother, who was active in the church and community. She later cited her mother’s spirit and community involvement as influencing her to identify as a feminist.
After graduating from the Pacific’s Stockton College, Huerta became a teacher. Her observations while teaching in a low-income, rural area served as a catalyst for her involvement in the farm workers’ rights movement. Of her experience she said, “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.”
As a result, she left teaching and focused her energy on organizing and advocating on behalf of farm workers, whose voices were largely silent at this time. Over the next few years she was active in the community, and co-founded several organizations. However, she is most well known for co-founding the National Farm Workers Association (now known as United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee) in 1962 with Cesar Chavez. In addition to organizing, she was politically active, lobbying for and against laws that would help the people she served. While Huerta played an invaluable role in the farm workers’ rights movement, she was also active in the women’s rights movement, and worked on behalf of the Feminist Majority, encouraging Latinas to run for office.
Huerta has received many accolades for her contributions to society, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights. She also received an honorary degree from Princeton University and has several schools named after her across the country. Today Huerta remains active in progressive causes and serves on several boards. She is also the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders.
Dolores Huerta’s lifetime of achievements forever changed our nation, and her spirit of nonviolent activism, Latina empowerment, and dignity for all will forever remain an important part of her legacy as a one of our community’s original podersas. At NLIRH we are proud to call Dolores Huerta a friend and hermana en la luncha, as she has joined us for several events and rallies, and remains an inspiration to us all. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!