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Dolores Huerta: Life and Times of an American Political Activist of Mexican Descent

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Dolores Huerta is a Mexican-American political activist born on April 10, 1930, in northern New Mexico (“Dolores Huerta” 2013). As a young woman living in the mid-20th century, there was a very strict role set out for her, particularly being of Mexican heritage. Despite this, with inspiration from her generous and highly independent mother, Huerta pursued her education through high school and into university, earning a teaching certificate. While teaching, she became aware of the economic injustices in her community and was determined to act to correct them. She is best known for her fight for farm workers’ rights primarily in the 1960s and 70s though she continues her activism today. (Garcia 1993)

Huerta was an important figure in gaining worker’s rights, helping her organizations gain significant victories despite her status as a Latina woman–something that made being taken seriously in the working world difficult during this period. She is often said to be the unsung heroine of this movement, as her colleague Cesar Chavez is much more often recognized for their work. (“National Portrait” 2015) In 1955 she began her career at the Stockton Community Service Organization, hoping to help the poor as she had wanted. During her time there, she helped organize events to register voters and fought for better working and living conditions for migrant workers. (Garcia 1993)

After working for the CSO, Huerta met Cesar Chavez who had similar opinions to her own about the best way to gain farm workers the rights they deserved. Their ideas did not agree with the methods of the CSO, so they resigned and went on to co-found the National Farm Workers Association. They had incredible success, Huerta using her skills and education to become a strong lobbyist and contract negotiator for the NFWA. Despite that their organization had little economic power, their grassroots campaign methods allowed them to gain the needed leverage through boycotts and strategic voting. Her first major achievement in this field came in 1963 by providing farm workers with disability insurance and Aid for Dependant Families, serving as an important step toward remedying the poverty that she saw among the working class. One of Huerta and the Association’s greatest achievements was getting the first ever act allowing the workers the right to organize and advocate for their own conditions called the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This essentially allowed them to achieve their dream of organizing the workers they were advocating for, which was their goal in founding the NFWA. (“Dolores Huerta” 2013)

Throughout her career, Huerta had always asserted her belief that women had an integral role in activism and never considered her gender to be a thing that stood between her and her work. After her successes in the NFWA, Huerta also began focusing her efforts on feminists activities (Garcia 1993). She campaigned to encourage more Latina women to run for political positions, leading to a major increase in the number of women involved in politics. She even held a position in the 21st Century Party which advocated for a true representation of gender and racial diversity in political office. Today Huerta continues to educate and advocate for workers, particularly for the working poor, and women’s rights.

Despite her success and relentlessness in moving toward providing the rights she saw necessary, Huerta received significant backlash. Much of this was due to her subverting the rather rigid stereotypes of the time, for both Latina and American women. Many of her opposers were fellow women who saw her as denying her motherly and wifely duties in favor of her work, something unheard of. She was also often resented by her male colleagues and even the farmworkers she advocated for due to her independence. Her greatest challenge was likely that she and her children often lived in poverty because she had to work tirelessly for a movement that could only pay her very little. Even her marriages suffered due to her work ethic and independent spirit, as she went through 2 divorces during her career. (Garcia 1993). Despite these hardships, Huerta never faltered in her resolve and continued to give selflessly to her cause.

Dolores Huerta was a pioneer of both workers’ rights and in creating a place for women in politics. Against all odds, she never faltered in her beliefs and is now a symbol of activism.

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