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Dolores Huerta The Latina Freedom Fighter Who Taught Us ‘Sí Se Puede’ Has Been Arrested Over 20 Times

If you are a Latino in the United States you probably have heard the name Dolores Huerta, or that of her political partner Cesar Chavez. These two authentic dynamos revolutionized the way in which migrant workers are treated. With Chavez, Huerta founded the National Farmworkers Association (now United Farm Workers or UFW). At age 89, she is still a civil rights activist and labor leader, and she, of course, is a fierce advocate for women’s rights. She is a true legend whose story should be taught in every classroom.

These are some facts about her amazing and impactful life!

1. Her full name is…

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Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta and she was born on born April 10, 1930. She was born in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico, which helped shape her political ideals.

2. Her grandparents were Mexican migrants

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Her parents were Juan Fernández and Alicia Chávez. Juan was the son of Mexican migrants and worked as a coal miner in Dawson. He later worked with braceros (Mexican workers who went to the United States on a special visa to join the labor force) in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

3. Her father’s stories made her think about the work that unions do for worker’s rights

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As often happens, political ideas tend to travel from generation to generation. Hearing her father’s stories, Dolores got in touch with the idea of unions, which in the case of Mexican and Mexican-American workers were used as a force against injustice. Her parents divorced and her father was a state legislator.

4. She was raised by her mom in a farming community

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A big part of Dolores’ political ideals has to do with farm work and what manual labor is truly worth. This is an echo of her childhood in Stockton, California, where she was raised by her mother. Her mom was a pillar of the community, a generous spirit for whom paisanos were family.

5. The family owned a hotel and a restaurant

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And Dolores’ mom would often give discounts or even free accommodation to struggling workers. She certainly led by example, and her impact was multiplied once Dolores found her political voice

6. She started her life as an activist when she was in high school

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When she was at the Stockton High School she was a majorette and member of numerous clubs.

7. A teacher graded her unfairly in high school, she considered it was racial bias

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She knew right there and then that she needed to fight for her rights and the rights of minorities. She got herself a teaching credential, and taught primary school, until…

8. She left her job as a teacher and became an activist, having witnessed injustices suffered by her students

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She is quoted as saying: “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children”. Respect, sometimes change needs to start in the household and the field, rather than in the classroom, and Dolores identified that.

9. 1955: the year she started changing the world

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In 1955 Huerta helped activist Fred Ross kick off the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization. She soon proved to be a force to be reckoned with. She soon took charge of the Stockton Chapter. In 1960 she co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association and in 1962 she got together with Cesar Chavez to found the National Farm Workers Association, which changed the lives of thousands of field workers and their families.

10. She was a master negotiator

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It was not easy in the 1960s to negotiate as a woman, let alone a woman of color. But that is just what she did in 1966, negotiating a contract between grape pickers and the Schenley Wine Company. It was the first time that farm workers argued for their rights with an agricultural business. Eso, chingaos!

11. She also organized the now famous Delano grape strike in 1965

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California is one of the largest producers of table grapes not only in the United States, but the entire world. Well, Huerta led a boycott against the grape industry to achieve collective bargaining, which was signed in 1970. Huerta was able to communicate the plight of farmers to consumers, also a first in American activism.

12. She has worked as a lobbyist for life-changing laws that have improved the lives of workers

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If you or a family member have taken the California driver’s test in Spanish, for example, you have Huerta to thank for. Laws like this have made California a much more inclusive society.

13. She has been arrested over 20 times

Credit: DxEy6z3VYAQLiNu Twitter. Digital image. Dolores Huerta

This is a result, of course, of her activism. These arrests have been the product of civil disobedience non-violent acts such as boycotts or strikes!

14. She is still an active political activist

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She serves in the boards of various progressive organizations, such as People for the American Way, Consumer Federation of California, and Feminist Majority Foundation.

15. She witnessed a major political assassination: Robert F. Kennedy’s 

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As “Bobby” delivered his victory speech in the California presidential primary election, Dolores Huerta stood by his side. Moments later, on that fateful June 5, 1968, he would be shot.

16. She was once beaten severely by a policeman

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This happened in 1988, during a peaceful demonstration in San Francisco. She was protesting the platform of presidential candidate George H.W. Bush. She had broken ribs and her spleen had to be removed in an emergency surgery.

17. She won a lawsuit and guess what she did with the proceeds?

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Huerta being Huerta, she donated it for the benefit of farm workers. Her case also led to a reform in how San Francisco police deal with crowd control.

18. She established the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2002

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The Foundation’s objectives: “community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: health & environment, education & youth development, and economic development.” We are lucky to have people like her.

19. She has received numerous accolades in her lifetime

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Her awards include the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is also in the National Women’s Hall of Fame,  where she was introduced in 1993, the first Latina to achieve this.

20. Huerta had a relationship with Richard Chavez, Cesar’s brother

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The two never married, but they had four children. She had two previous marriages that ended in divorce.

21. Last but not least, she coined a very famous phrase… 

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Sí se puede… yes we can. Wow.

The Daughter Of Farmworkers Wins $100K Prize To Help Her Community

Fierce

The Daughter Of Farmworkers Wins $100K Prize To Help Her Community

Maria Blancas / YouTube

Maria Blancas grew up the child of farmworkers and saw the impacts of their work in real-time. She even worked on farms when she was in high school picking apples and onion seeds. It wasn’t until she got to college that she realized how little people truly understood about her community and their lives. So, she dedicated her studies to the lives and conditions of farmworkers and it paid off.

Maria Blancas is a Ph.D student at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

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Blancas grew up with migrant farmworker parents from Mexico. She helped on the farms and watched as the other farmworkers dealt with the physical nature of the job. However, in her undergraduate years, according to The Seattle Times, Blancas realized people had oversimplified the lives and struggles of the people she was working with.

Blancas has dedicated her education to improve the lives of her family and all others working in the fields.

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According to The Seattle Times, Blancas wants to change the narrative around what is happening to the farmworkers’ community. Her aim is to create a fuller and more in-depth picture of the lives and “issues” within the community as the work in the fields.

Her work so far won her a $100,000 prize from the Bullitt Foundation to focus on furthering her work.

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The Bullitt Foundation aims to “safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest,” according to the website.

In that effort, the foundation is giving Blancas a significant grant to allow her to focus on her work.

“When people ask me why I do the work that I do,” Blancas told The Seattle Times. “I always think about my family: mi familia.”

The Bullitt Prize is different than most awards and prizes.

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Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes told The Seattle Times that the prize a “reverse Nobel Peace Prize” in that it doesn’t reward people on their overall work. Instead, the foundation looks for people with potential and awards them at the early stages of their careers based on where their work could go.

Blancas has already done work within her community by surveying the community during her time working at the local community college.

The Seattle Times reports that Blancas noticed that some people would go to her community and conduct studies of the workers. However, the groups would leave and never share the results. So, Blancas teamed up with other researchers and did a survey of 350 farmworkers from Whatcom and Skagit to see what was happening, who they were, and what they needed.

Blancas and the team compiled the results of the study, called “Nothing About Us Without Us,” and shared them in a video.

The team discovered that “40 percent of the workers identified as indigenous peoples, mostly from Mexico, and about a quarter couldn’t read Spanish. Its findings, in keeping with academic conventions, quantified problems: 40 percent said they didn’t always have regular breaks, 20 percent lacked consistent access to water, and 60 percent hadn’t seen a doctor in the past year.”

Blancas is planning a dissertation that will incorporate video of farmworker testimonials.

Blancas will be hosting a workshop to teach farmworkers how to create the videos for the dissertation.

READ: A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

Entertainment

A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

George Ballis / Take Stock

Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez are often considered the leaders in the farmworkers rights movement. The two have done a lot to better the lives of those working in the fields, but a new documentary is highlighting a forgotten hero in the farmworkers rights movement. “Adios Amor” is highlighting the work of Maria Moreno, who fought for their rights before Huerta and Chavez continued her work.

Before Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, there was Maria Moreno, the first female farmworker to lead a union.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

 Adiós Amor—The Search for Maria Moreno, is a feature film that examines the life and death of the obscure labor leader. Moreno was a migrant mother who sacrificed everything but her twelve kids in the pursuit of justice for farmworkers. During the late ’50s and ’60s, Moreno’s work led poor agricultural workers into a movement that would later capture the heart of the nation. 

The discovery of forgotten photographs taken more than fifty years ago sparked the search for an unsung hero. A migrant mother haunted by a personal tragedy who rolled up her sleeves, collected signatures, and electrified audiences with her gift for public speaking for a cause she believed in.

Moreno was the first female farmworker in America to be hired as a union organizer. She was elected by her fellow Mexican American, Filipino, Black and Okie farmworkers to represent them. Her charisma attracted crowds, but it also got her into trouble with her labor bosses who fired her for being so outspoken. 

The film’s director and producer Laurie Coyle found photos of Moreno tucked away in an archive.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Were it not for the Maverick photographers and journalists who captured Maria’s legacy, her story might have been lost. Coyle has said that the idea for the project began after she found the images captured by late farmworker photographer George Ballis. The photos depict Moreno speaking in front of crowds and meeting with workers in the fields of California, racing to events with her children and husband.

“She had this piercing gaze and always seemed to be surrounded by children,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “I couldn’t help but be captivated.”

Coyle began researching about Moreno. But the whereabouts of the activist later in life remains a mystery. The search for Moreno guides the documentary, where characters fade in and out like ghosts. From California’s Great Central Valley to the Arizona desert and U.S.-Mexico border, the journey tells Moreno’s story with passion and humor. The director soon discovered radio journalist Ernest Lowe, who had followed Moreno during her days as a union leader and had also been enchanted by her charisma. 

Moreno and her family were traveling farmworkers following the crops.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Born to a Mexican immigrant father and Mescalero Apache mother, in Karnes City, Texas; Moreno and her family were nomadic farmworkers for years. Following the crops, their travels took them to Utah, California, Arizona, and Texas. 

In April 1958, Moreno started her union activism following a flood that pushed many workers into starvation. Coyle found that one of her sons went blind temporarily due to extreme hunger. “How do you think that I feel … seeing my son blind only because we don’t got nothing to eat?” Moreno said in one passionate speech. “(Meanwhile), some other tables are full and wasting food.”

In a time of unprecedented abundance, farmworkers lived in dire poverty, and Maria Moreno set out to change that.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

A deeply human drama is brought to the viewers’ attention, Mexican-American farmworkers living in dire poverty at a time of unprecedented abundance. An abundance sustained by impoverished peoples’ faith, family values, and working-class culture. 

Adios Amor – The Search for Maria Moreno pays tribute to the people whose hard work feeds the nation, and celebrates the courageous woman who told their story to the world.

She gained support from Oklahoma migrants, Filipino American workers, and Latino pickers, and was active in the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a union that was sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

“It was so unusual for a woman like her back then to be in this position,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “The first time I understood that she was somebody different was when she went to (University of California,) Berkeley,” Martha Moreno Dominguez, her daughter, said in the film. “I realized who my mother really was … I said, wow, you know. Here’s my mother, a second-grade education doing this.”

Eventually, Moreno was forced out of the union and left California to practice her faith.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Eventually, in 1962, Moreno was forced out of the fight due to jealousy and disagreements within the union. Documents show an AFL-CIO official accused her of misspending and she was forced to step down from leadership.

“She wasn’t afraid to say whatever she had to say,” Gilbert Padilla, co-founder for the United Farm Workers, told Shoot Online. “I assume that’s why they got rid of her.”

Coyle’s research found that when Cesar Chavez began to form his own farmworkers union, he purposely kept Moreno out of it, seeing her as a “big mouth”, and a possible rival.

Moreno’s children say she left California for a remote part of the Arizona desert, 100 miles west of Phoenix, where she asked God for guidance. Later in her life, Moreno became a Pentecostal minister along the US-Mexico border in San Luis, Arizona. She sought to transform society one soul at a time, instead of focusing on systemic change. Maria Moreno died in 1989, largely forgotten.

Watch the trailer below.

The film is set to premiere Friday, September 27 on most PBS stations.

READ: Dolores Huerta The Latina Freedom Fighter Who Taught Us ‘Sí Se Puede’ Has Been Arrested Over 20 Times