Dolores Huerta “Racism, sexism, discrimination, and social and economic inequities continue dividing people of color from their white counterparts, women from men and the rich from the poor, she said. A better future can only be achieved, she said, through a grass-roots effort of organizing to demand change.”
Dolores Huerta, a longtime civil rights leader and a champion for farmworkers, immigrants and women, visited Southwestern University on Jan. 18 as part of “Remember, Honor and Act — MLK 50,” a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy.
During her speech to a crowded room of students, teachers and community members, Huerta didn’t shy away from hot topics, which she said parallel the social and political climate of the 1960s.
Racism, sexism, discrimination, and social and economic inequities continue dividing people of color from their white counterparts, women from men and the rich from the poor, she said. A better future can only be achieved, she said, through a grass-roots effort of organizing to demand change.
“We’re in a very critical moment not only in our country but in our world,” Huerta said. “When things are so bad that people start paying attention, I say that’s a good time to organize.”
She suggested the growing divide between certain political, social and ethnic groups begins as early as prekindergarten.
“Look at the content in our schools,” Huerta said. “Somehow, it seems a whole lot of things have been left out of our educational system.” She said those omissions include the contributions from underrepresented groups in the United States, reaching as far back as the nation’s founding.
Dolores Huerta touched on a potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has a major effect on trading among the United States, Mexico and Canada. She said the agreement has led to corporations taking over the production of goods from farmers in developing countries. She urged students to go beyond the ballot box and get involved through volunteering and serving on community boards.
“I do believe we’re going to have a new political revolution,” Huerta said, adding that recent wins for Democrats in Alabama and Virginia back her theory. Dolores Huerta created the Agricultural Workers Association and co-founded the united Farm Workers. Working alongside César Chávez, she was arrested 22 times for protesting, helped lead a highly publicized and successful grape boycott, and coined the phrase “Si, se puede” (“Yes, we can”).
Dolores Huerta has earned numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Dolores Huerta has been an inspiration to our community for a very long time,” said Marissa Madrid-Ortega, president of the university’s Coalition for Diversity and Social Justice, which co-sponsored the event. The school recently obtained rights to stream “Dolores the Movie,” a documentary about her work and life.
“It’s amazing to see someone who looks like me — another Latina — who was able to continue that activism all throughout her life,” Madrid-Ortega said. Nadia Siles, an engineer at Samsung Austin Semiconductor, attended the event after watching the documentary. She said she sees her hardworking mother and activist sister in Huerta.
“I had never been an activist. I was a bystander watching,” Siles said as she was overcome with emotion. “She took me from just watching the news to actually wanting to be involved and go out and volunteer anddo more.”