From teacher to civil rights icon: How Dolores Huerta taught the working poor the power of their voices

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: October 13, 2020, 9:31AM

Dolores Huerta is a feminist, activist, and lobbyist who has spent her life advocating for farm worker’s and women’s rights, becoming one of the most influential labor leaders in American history.

She was born Dolores Fernandez in Dawson, New Mexico in 1930. Her father was a farm worker who later became a political and labor activist, while her mother was a restaurant and hotel owner who frequently provided affordable food and housing to farm workers and their families. While they divorced when she was young, her parents helped lay the foundation for the person she would become.

Huerta began her career as an educator, but left her job as an elementary school teacher after struggling to gain access to resources like food and proper clothing for her students, mostly children of farm workers. It was then, in her mid-twenties, that she found her calling - advocating for the working poor.

She co-founded the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA), and what eventually became the United Farm Workers, serving as the UFW’s Vice President. It was during this time Huerta coined the organization’s motto,“¡Sí, se puede!”, “Yes we can!”. She coordinated voter registration drives, organized workers, negotiated contracts and advocated for safer working conditions. She organized a lettuce boycott and two national grape boycotts that led to passage of the groundbreaking Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975.

Huerta has also actively championed women’s rights throughout her life, advocating to elect more Latinos and women to political office.

The civil rights icon has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for others. She was the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She was also awarded the inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Huerta remains active to this day, at 91 years old, continuing her life’s work as President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, advocating for the working poor, women, and children.

Huerta encourages women to have the confidence to embrace leadership positions.

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