Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Co-Founder of Migrants' Union Emerges from Shadows

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Co-Founder of Migrants' Union Emerges from Shadows

Article excerpt

In history, women's accomplishments are often tucked behind those of their male colleagues. That's how it has been for Dolores Huerta, co-founder with the late Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers of America.

Chavez, the union's charismatic president until his death in 1993, has been credited with organizing the union and its nationwide grape boycotts to win better pay and conditions for farm workers. But her admirers believe the credit should be shared with Huerta, the union's first vice president since its founding in 1962.

A small Mexican-American woman with soft eyes but steely determination, Huerta at 65 still spends much of her time organizing migrant workers and negotiating contracts with growers. She averages four hours' sleep a night and is often away from her Bakersfield, Calif., home.

In her spare time she has reared 11 children.

Before he died in 1993, Chavez described Huerta as "totally fearless, both mentally and physically."

Karen Nussbaum, of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, calls Huerta "the most important women labor leader in the 1970s. She led the picket lines, stared down the bosses, negotiated the contracts, sustained the beatings and carried on."

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown described her as "a fighter, dynamic, creative." But he also described her as "embodying the spirit of Cesar Chavez," and there lies the rub.

"That's the history of the world. His story is told, hers isn't," Huerta said in a recent interview. "That has to change, and women are going to have to change it."

So Huerta in recent years has added to her union work an advocacy for women, with a focus on getting women elected to public office in California.

"At some point in my career in the union I realized that women were not being valued for what they were doing," Huerta said. "Women have the ideas, and men take the credit for them."

Huerta was born in 1930 in Dawson, N.M. Her father was a miner and union activist. He was, she said, charismatic, intelligent, handsome and a chauvinist. …

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