Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Dolores Huerta at Seventy-Five: Still Empowering Communities: Interview with Cofounder of United Farm Workers of America Dolores Huerta

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Dolores Huerta at Seventy-Five: Still Empowering Communities: Interview with Cofounder of United Farm Workers of America Dolores Huerta

Article excerpt

Dolores Huerta is currently President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing. She cofounded the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) with Cesar E. Chavez and holds the emeritus positions of the UFW as secretary-treasurer and first vice president. She is also a member of the Fund for the Feminist Majority. As the legislative advocate for the Community Service Organization and the United Farm Workers Union, she was instrumental in helping pass legislation related to disability insurance for farm workers, Spanish-language voting ballots, eligibility for public assistance for resident immigrants, ending the Bracero Program and the legalization of one million farm workers under the Immigration Reform Act of 1984-1985. As the main negotiator for the United Farm Workers, she obtained many "firsts" that had been denied to farm workers: toilets in the fields along with soap, paper towels and cold drinking water with individual paper cups; the Robert F. Kennedy medical plan that covered farm worker families; the Juan de la Cruz pension fund; and rest periods, paid vacations, holidays and protections from pesticides in union contracts.

Together with Cesar E. Chavez, she established the National Farm Workers Service Center, which builds low-income housing throughout the United States, and Radio Campesina, a radio network connecting farmers in California, Washington and Arizona.

There are four elementary schools in California, one in Fort Worth, TX, and a high school in Pueblo, CO, named after Dolores Huerta. She has received numerous awards including the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in 1998, Ms. Magazine's one of the three most important women of 1997, Ladies Home Journal's 100 most important woman of the twentieth century, the Puffin Foundation's award for Creative Citizenship Labor Leader Award in 1984, Kern County's Woman of the Year by California State legislature and the Ohtli award from the Mexican government.

More recently, she held a six-month position as a University of California Regent and is currently a professor at the University of Southern California on community organizing where she lectures before students and community groups throughout the country and abroad.

Milagros "Mimi" Aledo and Maria C. Alvarado interviewed Dolores Huerta on 1 February 2006. Aledo, a native of Florida and a senior editor of the HJHP, will receive a master in public policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2006. Alvarado, an associate publisher of the HJHP, is a native of New Mexico and a U.S. Department of State Pickering Fellow. Alvarado will receive a master in public policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2007.

HJHP

Having been involved in several successful campaigns that resulted in the creation of landmark legislation, such as the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, what would you say are the main lessons that activists can take away from such victories? What personal lessons did you take away from these experiences?

Huerta

First of all, whatever you do and say in the capitals, whether it is Washington, Sacramento or any other capital, depends on how much organization you have behind you. If you have a lot of organization at the ground level, then it makes the actual lobbying very easy. Because politicians listen to what their constituents have to say, when you pass major legislation, the work that really takes place is the organizing to make politicians feel the pressure from their own constituents.

Also, you have to look for opportunities. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was an unusual situation because almost all of the immigrants' rights groups were pushing for legalization of people who had been in the United States since 1981 and who had never left the country. …

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