Dolores Huerta is accredited as the co-founder for the United Farmworkers of America union, where she spent most of her life as a political activist, fighting for better working conditions and the rights of farmworkers. Huerta was a leading organizer. Although, her role in the farmworker movement has long been overshadowed by that of Cesar Chavez, her partner and longtime collaborator that attributed to the movement.
Huerta became one of the most vocal leaders in the union, but her framework is unprecedented by the sexism she faced from within her organization. At one point, a lawmaker is seen referring to Huerta as Chavez’s “sidekick.” Her words, “Si, se puede” that directly translates to “Yes, we can,” is synonymous with her upbringing as she stood out as the only woman leading a movement dominated by men.
Born in New Mexico and raised in California, Huerta had one goal when she joined the union in 1962: to advance the economic welfare of farm laborers. This call for action was predetermined by her father’s experience, who was a farmworker and a union activist. But her mother, Alicia influenced Dolores’ activism as she was a hotel owner that welcomed low-wage workers in the hotel. As a teenager, she valued her mother’s compassion for people and was outraged by the racial and economic injustices she saw in California’s agricultural Central Valley.
“They didn’t have toilets in the fields, they didn’t have cold drinking water. They didn’t have rest periods,” recalled Huerta. Farm laborers worked for wages as low as 70 cents an hour.
Huerta was 25 when she became the political director of the Community Service organization, where she met Cesar Chavez and formed their union a couple later.
In 1962, she founded the UFA alongside Cesar Chavez, and they organized yearslong boycotts that impacted the market for grapes. This is notably one of her greatest achievements as she drew support from millions of people of laborers in the United States. During the grape strike, the market fell as millions of table grapes and wines were not being produced. At its height, an estimated 17 million people stopped buying grapes, according to NPR.
Huerta was an unconventional figure in the restoration to improve the working conditions of farm laborers. She is also a mother of 11 children, who provide some of the moving accounts of dedication that exacted on the family. One daughter puts it, “The movement became her most important child.”
Dolores, A new documentary directed by Peter Bratt, spotlights her obscure history, and regains the attention that she deserves. The film highlights for clarity as she spearheaded a movement that pivoted towards economic change.
9 decades later, Huerta is still an ongoing and outspoken activist that has great influence on the line of change. Her slogan “Si, se puede,” inspired President Obama’s own campaign battle cry. Obama acknowledged Huerta as the source of that phrase when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.