Dolores Huerta, UFW Co-founder, Visits King Hall for Chávez Week Lecture
Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union with César Chávez, visited King Hall April 8 to meet with students and faculty, discuss her work as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and deliver the keynote address for the 2010 César Chávez Week celebration hosted by La Raza Law Students Association. A large, enthusiastic audience turned out to the Wilkins Moot Courtroom to hear Huerta's call for a renewed commitment to grass-roots activism.
Born in 1930 in New Mexico, Huerta grew up in Stockton, where she co-founded the local chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) and the Agricultural Workers Association during the mid-1950s and became involved as a community activist. In 1962, Huerta and Chávez founded the union that would become the United Farm Workers, the first entity to successfully negotiate collective bargaining argreements on behalf of California farm workers. An effective lobbyist, she helped to pass legislation allowing Californians to take the state drivers license examination in Spanish, expanding Aid to Families with Dependent Children to farm workers, and establishing collective bargaining rights for farm workers. As she approaches her eightieth birthday, her activism continues through her leadership of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to organizing communities and working toward equal access to health care, housing, education, jobs, and economic resources. (Pictured: Dolores Huerta and Cruz Reynoso)
As with all of Huerta's speaking engagements, the King Hall lecture began with the traditional "solidarity clap"--rhythmic clapping that gradually speeds into sustained applause. Dean Kevin R. Johnson introduced her, saying "Dolores Huerta's efforts have improved the lives of farm workers everywhere," and noted that Huerta is credited with originating the "Sí se puede!" motto that originated with UFW and has since become a rallying cry for civil rights and immigration reform groups.
Huerta described her work with her foundation as being similar to that of Fred Ross, the community organizer who founded the Community Service Organization and who trained Chávez and Huerta. While not many today remember Ross, she said, his work behind the scenes made it possible for the people he inspired and the groups they organized to bring significant change, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation seeks to continue the process.
"We do grass roots organizing, holding meetings in people's homes, and convincing them that they have power, reminding them that they are the only ones who can change their conditions, and that they have the power to do that if they organize," she said.
In a lecture that touched on healthcare, voter registration, campaign finance reform, and immigration reform, Huerta repeatedly asserted that grass-roots activism as the best way to achieve social change. "Change has to come from people," she said.