At Nearly 80, Si, Dolores Huerta Can

By Abdullah, Khalil | National Catholic Reporter, August 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

At Nearly 80, Si, Dolores Huerta Can


Abdullah, Khalil, National Catholic Reporter


Dolores Huerta will be forever linked with Cesar Chavez and Philip Vera Cruz as a cofounder of the United Farm Workers Union in the 1960s. As director of a grape workers strike and a national boycott against grape growers for the meager wages afforded their workers, Huerta was instrumental in orchestrating efforts that led to a major victory for the union and the labor movement.

Huerta, who left the union several years ago to found the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield, Calif., proudly announced at the AARP Diversity Conference in Chicago, "Next year I will be 80." She was honored at the June 8-10 conference as one of the nation's extraordinary older women.

The energetic Huerta dedicated her foundation to supporting efforts in community organizing. She told the 600 attendees that one former organizer--President Barack Obama--told her, "I stole your slogan." Huerta's phrase, "Si, se puede!" which galvanized the farm workers' movement, translates into English as "Yes, we can!"

In an interview, Huerta noted, "I still work with farmers and we teach the importance of the unions, but I wanted to include other activities as well." She has become a frank critic of America's failure to value elders and calls for new strategies to bind generations together.

"I think the elderly have a lot to contribute to society, and the way to do it is to have seniors incorporated into the community" rather than promoting programs that "shut them off in a corner." She encourages communities to devise ways to tap the knowledge and wisdom older adults have to offer.

"Our whole society is so youth-focused," Huerta contended. "Anglo or U.S. culture demeans elderly people." Generally, she said, "cultures of color have more respect for elders." Traditional views, though, are being challenged by the rapid aging of the Hispanic population in the United States. Expected to more than double in the next two decades, the Latino population of those 65 or older will yield increasing numbers of older adult children caring for very elderly parents.

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Although Huerta noted that Latinos are deeply reluctant to place their elders in nursing homes, sometimes those in their 50s or 60s face their own debilitating medical conditions and may not have the strength to assist their aging parents. Unable to lift their parents from a chair, bed or bathtub, these aging boomers will increasingly confront their "pangs of guilt," she said, over finding long-term care for a frail parent.

Huerta acknowledged that "the longevity facing baby boomers, especially women" will only intensify the stress on families trying to cope with aging relatives. She conceded that government cannot do everything, but refused to accept the conservative political position that the Social Security system should be downsized. In order to provide an effective safety net for families, she said, "more economic resources need to be appropriated. …

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