Dolores Huerta speaks on activism, community organizing
Madison Riehle | Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Welcomed by an audience cheering her famous phrase, “Si, se puede! Si, se puede!” Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers and civil rights icon, took the stage in McKenna Hall Tuesday night to discuss her career as an activist and leader.
The lecture was hosted in conjunction with the Institute for Latino Studies’ Transformative Latino Leadership Lecture Series which involved a discussion with the Institute for Latino Studies director Luis Fraga along with the Notre Dame and South Bend community.
The conversation with Huerta explored her upbringing in Stockton, California, as well as her road to founding the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962.
“Many organizations had tried to unionize farm workers but they had all failed,” Huerta said. “But since Cesar and I had learned to do this kind of bottom up organizing, we thought we could do it. We knew it was going to take a long time. The thing is about organizing is that you have to teach people how to fight for themselves.”
Through this method, Chavez and Huerta planned the Delano Grape Strike over three years by reasoning with farm workers in Central California to unite and getting consumers across America to boycott grapes. The strike lasted for five years.
“Originally I felt a little intimidated, but then I realized it was all in my head,” Huerta said. “Cesar always said, though, ‘if you don’t feel nervous, that means it’s not important. That nervousness means you’re doing something really great.’”
Huerta recounted growing up in a middle class home in Stockton, with music and dancing lessons, and being a member of the Girl Scouts for 10 years. This way of life, she said, was incomparable to that of the farm workers, expressing the difficulty of raising her 11 children on wages similar to that of the farmers she was campaigning for.
“I literally did not know where my next meal was coming from,” Huerta said. “My family thought I was crazy and they criticized me very harshly. But I did it anyway. It was a calling that was so strong that I felt I had to do it.”
Now, at 87 years old, Huerta has been the head of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for almost 15 years, which grounds itself on the same principles of organizing from the ground up to impact social change. The foundation now helps nine different school districts of California’s Central Valley.
Huerta said she continues to work with farmers and low income individuals, especially minorities to help them unite and decide what it is they want to do as a community.
“So many of our African American and Latino students are being pushed out of schools,” she said. “They suspend kids for whatever reasons. We normally have a lot of kids in prison, and a lot of them come from the school systems because they criminalize the children while they are in the school systems. Our children of color are not getting a quality education.”
When asked about the current political climate, Huerta responded that we must constantly remember we are one human race, and quoted Rev. James Lawson, who said “we have to eliminate the systems of oppression in our society.”
Specifically, she said if she could say one thing to President Donald Trump, her response was, “Get an education.”
Leaving on a similar note as she walked in, Huerta turned to the audience in conclusion, urging them take action to improve the world.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said. “Don’t think in terms of making money, because you can’t take it with you. Think about how we can make a better world.”