A Conversation with Legendary Latina, Dolores Huerta

At 89 years old and barely 5 feet tall, Dolores Huerta, the legendary Latina icon and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, is tiny, but she commands a room effortlessly. Huerta visited Houston in conjunction with the exhibit Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields at the Holocaust Museum of Houston and revealed her current obsession: voting rights, especially for people of color. Her presence and quiet demeanor are still a reminder that although the fight for justice might have changed venues, it isn’t over.

“You’ve called me an icon, but I have to disagree. I’m not an icon, I’m an ‘I can’ and I think it is important that we all remember that,” Huerta told the audience.

Dolores, still has so much to say and listening to her rouse an audience primarily made up of Latina women, was electrifying. I have curated some highlights from her talk at the Houston Holocaust Museum to answer the question: Who is Dolores Huerta?

On Farm Work

I actually wanted to go out in the fields to work when I was young, but my mother wouldn’t let me. My brothers would go out in the fields and pick tomatoes, to save money for school, but my mother was a business woman, so I didn’t have to go out in the fields like many people did. Those people who had to earn their living from doing farm work despite how arduous and hard it is – it is so important that we remember the people who put food on our table. They should have the same rights as other working people do.

Portrait of labor activist Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers group, with a union flag that reads ‘Viva La Causa’, ca.1970s. (Photo by Cathy Murphy/Getty Images)

On Her Childhood Dreams

I wanted to be a dancer like Karina Gonzales Edwards, but unfortunately, I started my lessons too late – to be a good dancer you have to start very early. I was studied flamenco and ballet, but my teacher went off to study with Jose Greco the famous flamenco dancer, so I lost my teacher and here I am a union organizer instead.

On the Smithsonian Institute Exhibit: Revolution in the Fields

Thank you so much for coming to see the exhibit. This is the third location where it has been. The exhibit started off in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and by the way it is the first photo exhibit of a living person and the first photo exhibit of a Latino/Latina.

Dolores Huerta speaks to United Farm Workers members and supporters during an open air meeting,location unknown, ca. 1970s
Unidentified photographer. Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

On Education

Our educational system is the most important thing that we have in our country. During WWII, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was pressured to take money out of the educational system, he refused. He said, “No, we won’t take one dime out of our educational system, because it is the soul of our country”.

This is why we have to reform our education system, because somehow, we have to start changing what children are learning about the contributions people of color and women have made to our society. If we do not do this, we will not be able to erase the racism, sexism and misogyny that exist in our country right now and are causing us so much damage. We are here at the Holocaust Museum and we know what hatred and discrimination leads to. What is happening in our country – we are on that path right now. There is so much hatred and ignorance, really the right word is ignorance. We someone hates people so much they will travel miles to El Paso, Texas, to kill Mexicans. Or they will go to New Jersey to kill people because they are Jews. Or to Ohio to kill people because they are African American or Muslim or Christians.

What this means is that we have to stop the hatred through education. We have to start when children are in PreK and teach them the real history of the United States of America.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institute

On Voting Rights

I want to call on all of you to join my current obsession – especially in Texas, because not all people have the opportunity to register to vote. The current laws in Texas are laws that we got rid of in California over 50 years ago. In California you can register to vote on your computer or your cell phone. You don’t have to look around for a deputy registrar to register to you. There are millions of people in Texas that need to be registered to vote. I implore you to call upon your state representatives and tell them that you will not vote for them or support them unless they pass a law in Texas that allows every single person to register to vote if they are citizens.

I asked Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro both to please do something about voter registration in Texas. Texas is such an important state and such a big state that the impact will really be on the whole United States.

Dolores Huerta organizing marchers in Coachella, CA in 1969.© 1976 George Ballis/Take Stock / The Image Works

On Women’s Suffrage & Feminism

We are going to be celebrating Women’s Suffrage next year and I am repeating the quote everywhere I go. Coretta Scott King said, “We will never have peace until women take power.” I asked Coretta’s permission to change that to “We will never have peace until feminists take power.”

Not all women are enlightened about reproductive rights. We have some women who are not there yet, so we have to make sure that feminists are the ones who take power. When you watch TV and you see all these men at a table and you just know they are not going to make the right decisions. Feminist voices are not there and feminist voices are extremely important.

As women we have great potential and we have to come together to fulfill Coretta Scott’s dream. We have to take the power and make sure we make this a better world. We have to erase the ignorance.

José M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

On the Dolores Huerta Foundation

I got a small grant and decided to start the Dolores Huerta Foundation. We are meeting with small groups of people in their homes. We go house to house and talk about things like stopping the school to prison pipeline, infrastructure work in communities to make sure there are sidewalks, gutters and swimming pools.

Stopping the school to prison pipeline is so important. One of the schools in our community expelled 2,600 students in one year, needless to say the majority of them were African American and Latino. We sued them and the next year they only expelled 26; 2,600 down to 26 is quite an accomplishment.

Dolores Huerta, an American of Mexican descent, is a hero to some, but is most famous for her work with Cesar Chavez and their fight for farm workers rights. Married three times, with 11 children the Latina is still fighting for the rights of others.

Cover Photo Credit:

Dolores Huerta “Huelga” during grape strike, Delano, California, Sept. 24, 1965. Image: Harvey Wilson Richards/Harvey Richards Media Archive

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