This is the second post in my Women's History Month series, Legendary Latinas, in which I highlight the lives and accomplishments of influential Latinas. You can find the first post here. Please read the disclaimer if you have questions about my sources, otherwise, ENJOY!
The importance of Dolores Huerta as an organizer and activist cannot be overstated. I watched a video of her speaking in college before I really knew who she was, and was blown away. I don't remember what she was speaking about, but I remember thinking "this little old woman has so much power!" Of course, I should have realized that looks can be deceiving. See for yourself...
Dolores Huerta was born in 1930 in New Mexico. Growing up, her parents divorced, but Huerta learned from her mother's work ethic and her father's dedication to serving. She was inspired to become an organizer after being a teacher to the children of farmworkers, and seeing the resources they lacked. She decided it was a better course to organize the farmworkers in order to get to the root of the problem.
Huerta has been married three times and has 11 children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her dedication to La Causa (The Cause) was sometimes an obstacle in her personal life, but this seems to be something she has come to terms with. For her life's work, Huerta has received several honors, including the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, and an induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association -- which would become the United Farm Workers (UFW) -- alongside César Chávez in 1962. As an organizer, Huerta led the Delano strike against grape growers in the 60s, and the boycott of grapes and lettuce in the 70s. She helped establish the pension fund and credit union for farmworkers, and lobbied successfully to repeal the bracero program (a workforce agreement between the U.S. and Mexico sometimes labeled modern-day slavery) and to pass the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Although a proponent of non-violent organizing, she has been arrested dozens of times, and beaten and injured by police.
Her work as a labor organizer is what she's most known for, but her scope is much wider than that. Immigration, economic issues, civic engagement, feminism, gay rights... if it is unjust, if it touches her and the lives of the people she cares about, she fights for it. Her work is a great example of how intersections can work in activism, and the importance of lending one's voice to more than one cause. This is exemplified in the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses not only on community organizing, but also political advocacy, leadership, and volunteerism.
Huerta's dedication to a cause bigger than herself is something we must all look up to. The notion that you cannot lose if your sacrifice helps your community is so moving. She uses her strength and power to fight the system, but is warm and empathetic to her neighbors. It's almost as if she took those students going to class without shoes or food, and carried them on her back until she could give them what they needed.
I also respect her honesty about her role as a mother. She admits that she was not the attentive housewife or the dinner-at-5, bedtime-at-8 mother, but she has no regrets. She knew she had a greater purpose in life, and instead of trying to stifle that, she tried to show her children the path she thought was right. Perhaps this is not your style of mothering, but I think she deserves respect for doing that much. As women trying to lead multiple lives as mothers, daughters, wives, activists, feminists, and neighbors, maybe we simply can't have it all be perfect, all the time. And maybe, just maybe, it's okay to admit that, do the best we can, and push forward.
Huerta's outspoken activism is something I admire immensely. But it's not just her actions that I look up to, it's her way of being. Her very essence screams to me "I will not be shut down, I will be heard! If you can't speak, I'll be your voice!" I spent a lot of time in my life keeping quiet for the sake of pleasing others, so I have the utmost respect for a woman so fearless.
And, DAMN IT, does she make me proud to be Latina! There is no other way for me to put it: it is just so damn inspiring!
For more about Huerta's life, work, and struggle, you should check out:
Dolores Huerta Foundation
Dolores Huerta in Notable Hispanic American Women
Dolores Huerta Quotes
California Museum Legacy Trails: Dolores Huerta
- At Fri Mar 13, 08:18:00 AM mai'a said...
thanks for this. i love that part about her not being a perfect mother...it made me feel a lil bit better about my (non-perfect mothering) day ;)
- At Fri Mar 13, 09:03:00 AM ouyangdan said...
What a beautiful series!
I first read about Huerta after seeing this picture of America Ferrara dressed as her for the American Icons photo shoot. (I also live under a rock when it comes to history sometimes).
Thank you for highlighting her life in your series. I also like reading about women not being "perfect mothers", b/c I think it normalizes mother hood, and helps we mothers live up to realistic standards, and not the fetishized version that everyone holds up.
- At Fri Mar 13, 10:13:00 AM frau sally benz said...
I really wanted to include that aspect of her personal life, because she probably gets so much heat for not staying at home, tending to her children.
And I LOVE the America Ferrera picture. It's actually what made me finalize my idea for this series because I think there are many people out there who don't know very much about these women and what they've done.
- At Fri Mar 13, 06:49:00 PM T. R Xands said...
Also glad you included the motherhood aspect, I think sometimes that gets glossed over when it comes to activist parents (either that, or as you said, they get shit for not holding up the ideal of motherhood or fatherhood).
You know what, after seeing that America Ferrera pic I've been through many a wiki/google article on Dolores Huerta...then you post this and I realized we had talked about her in my anthro class and my high school US Hist class. Random memory lapse.
I can't wait for the next one!