Happy 85th birthday to a longtime union activist and inspiration to generations of activists for a better future!
Dolores Clara Fernandez was born on April 10, 1930, in Dawson, New Mexico. Her father, a farm worker and miner, was a union activist who won a seat in the state legislature in 1938. Dolores spent most of her childhood and early adult life in Stockton, Calif., where she and her two brothers moved with their mother, following her parents’ divorce.
The agricultural community where they lived was made up of Mexican, Filipino, African-American, Japanese and Chinese working families. After graduating from Stockton High School, she attended the University of the Pacific, earning a teaching credential. She married Ralph Head and had two daughters, Celeste and Lori. As a teacher she could not bear to see her students come to school with empty stomachs and bare feet. Thus began her lifelong journey of working to correct economic injustice.
In 1955 she met César Chávez. They shared a common vision and in the spring of 1962 launched the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers Union. Dolores’ organizing skills were essential to its growth. She helped in securing Aid For Dependent Families (AFDC) and disability insurance for farm workers in California, and was instrumental in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law of its kind in the U.S., granting farm workers in California the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions.
As one of the UFW’s most visible spokespersons Huerta lent her considerable prestige to political campaigns and numerous social causes, becoming a universally admired advocate for women, including within the farm workers’ movement.
As founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues to develop leaders and advocate for the working poor, women, and children.
Six public schools are names for Dolores Huerta. She was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2013. She has received numerous awards, among them the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from Pres. Clinton in l998, from Ms. Magazine and the Ladies Home Journal, the Smithsonian Institution, and nine honorary doctorates.
In 2012 Pres. Obama bestowed her with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. In her acceptance Dolores said, “The freedom of association means that people can come together in organization to fight for solutions to the problems they confront in their communities. The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights. I thank President Obama for raising the importance of organizing to the highest level of merit and honor.”
Adapted from http://doloreshuerta.org/dolores-huerta/
Dolores Huerta leads supporters of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in an unidentified march, early 1970s. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.