For more than 50 years, Dolores Huerta has worked tirelessly as a civil rights and women’s activist. The Mexican-American is perhaps most known for co-founding the United Farm Workers of America in 1962, alongside Cesar Chavez. Yet, she is far from retired.
At the age of 82, Huerta has not slowed down fighting for the causes she cares about. She founded The Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) in 2002 to organize at the grassroots level, and engage and develop new leaders. She works there as a full-time unpaid volunteer, and sees it as a continuation of the non-violent civil rights movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Throughout her life, she has been very politically active, lobbying in favor of (and against) numerous California and federal laws, including a bill to permit people to take the California driver’s examination in Spanish in 1960, legislation repealing the Bracero Program in 1962, and legislation to extend aid to families with dependent children to California farm workers, just to name just a few.
She has won many awards for her community service and advocacy work, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and very recently, the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Huerta’s mission, after five decades has passed, remains the same. She says she wants people “to take control of their lives and destinies.”
She says she doesn’t stand for one particular issue, but works on organizing people to work on various issues simultaneously. Huerta believes parent engagement and civic action are crucial in order to make positive changes in immigration, environment, health, education and the economy.
“We can then fulfill our Democratic dream of our country,” says Huerta about the importance of running for office or taking control your environment. “We can have equality of treatment, and have women as representatives in the numbers they deserve…Way back when we started, we didn’t have women in colleges, and not a lot of Latino and women organizations. Many laws have been passed that protect people.”
Huerta’s says her days are often filled with trying to raise money for her grassroots foundation, and she is often asked to speak at various civic functions, such as the Bay Area Gardeners’ Foundation fundraiser in July, which raised money for scholarships for students in financial need.
Claudia Lopez was a first generation Mexican-American who received a Bay Area Gardeners’ scholarship in 2007, and today works as a spokesperson for California Senator Leland Yee.
“Every time I’m given the opportunity to talk to Dolores Huerta, she reminds me of the huge responsibility we have as a leader to all communities,” says Lopez. “Sra. Huerta told me, ‘Claudia, you have to run for elected office. You are our future leader and we need you. Start with local politics and make your way up.’”
She says women like her mother and Dolores Huerta give her strength and encourage her to follow her heart and dreams, fight for justice, stay humble and remain true to her values as a proud Mexican-Californian woman.
“Every day I am inspired by women like my mother, Carolina, and leaders like Dolores Huerta,” says Lopez. “Why can’t I aspire to be the next U.S. Senator or the next Hillary Clinton?”