Ode to Dolores Huerta: selfless leader, freedom fighter, guiding star

“I’m glad she let me down easy when I sad I had stolen her slogan, “Si se puede,” because Dolores doesn’t play,” said President Obama while introducing Dolores Huerta during the ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday.

The President’s words couldn’t be more on point. At first sight, Dolores may seem frail, her soft voice and demeanor laying bare contrast with the more public image of her spearheading a million picket lines. Yet, as one who for almost six decades has been at the forefront of community organizing and activism, she is certainly no ‘little lady’.

This dynamo of a woman has dedicated her life to political activism on behalf of marginalized communities, lobbying in favor of (and against) numerous laws in the state of California and at the federal level, and is an internationally recognized feminist. To this day, her activist work in health, environment, education, immigration, LGBT, economic development and Latino issues speaks for itself, serving as a guiding star and inspiration to a whole new generation of activists even beyond our community.

Her 11 children learned at an early age that theirs was no ordinary mama. Her restlesness was part of their daily life, as her daughter Juanita Chavez recalls: “So many times you hear people say ‘Ugh, I have to go to work, and it is not like that for her. She doesn’t divide work and her personal life. Her life is her work. She wakes up every day with ‘What do I have to do to sustain my body? What is the minimum that I can do for myself so that I can have the maximum time and energy to do whatever it is out there that needs to be done?’”

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(Photos courtesy Elianne Ramos)

At 82, Dolores seems even more energetic, more vivacious than ever. Although her daughter Camila now serves as her Foundation’s Executive Director, she shows no signs of retiring. On the contrary, she religiously follows her dizzing schedule of speaking commitments, fundraising events and coalition-building drives across the country. “Whoever is out there calling, whatever she hears loudest on her radar, her “Spidey” senses go off and she’s off. Wherever that is, whatever is pressing on her right now, she needs to be there. Full heart, full spirit, full body, giving to it,” says Juanita.

When asked about the secret to keeping her energy and spirit going for so many years, she says in her characteristic good humor: “You don’t sleep. The secret is to never stop. You do it because it needs to be done.” Yet, when it comes to accolades, she humbly chooses to dedicate her hard-earned honors, including the Medal of Freedom, to the thousands out there who continue the fight for justice. “You can’t have freedom of speech if you don’t have organization. To me, this is what this medal means,” said she during the party in her honor held last night in Washington, DC. “Of course, we know many, many thousands of people doing important work to make this country better. I feel like this medal is for them, the people advocating and organizing. This is their medal. I want to thank them.”

That is the image of Dolores that I keep closest to my heart. Dolores, the humble leader. Dolores, the tireless fighter. Dolores, the one who gives her all, because she knows it’s right: An example of selfless activism at its best.

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Elianne Ramos is Principal/CEO of Speak Hispanic Marketing and Vice-Chair, Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). Under LATISM, she is also Chief Editor of the LATISM blog, and hostess to weekly Twitter chats reaching over 18.8 million impressions. Follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.

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