Pioneering Labor Activist Dolores Huerta: Women 'Never Think of Getting Credit' But Now That's Changing (2023)

When TIME Magazine ran a cover story in 1969 about the then-ongoing grape boycott, organized in part by the United Farm Workers in an effort to address working conditions among the laborers who picked those grapes in California, Dolores Huerta was there — sort of.

She was described in the story as the “tiny, tough assistant” of UFW leader Cesar Chavez. In reality, however, while Chavez was the head of the organization, Huerta was far more than an assistant. She and Chavez worked together in laying the groundwork for the union in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She worked directly with the farmworkers for whom the group advocated, and also in the state capital as their legislative advocate. She risked her life for her activism, is credited with coining the slogan “Yes, we can,” and along the way raised 11 children, many of whom have become activists in their own rights. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The question of how such an important figure in 20th century history could be seen as a mere assistant is a central theme of the documentary Dolores, which has its PBS premiere on Tuesday night. With the film’s Independent Lens debut on the horizon, the 87-year-old activist spoke to TIME about what it was like to be a woman leading a labor movement in the 1960s, and what comes next.

One of the main theses of this film is that you didn’t get credit for the work you did to organize the farmworkers. What did you think of that as the focus of the movie? Did you feel overlooked at the time?

I never felt overlooked because I didn’t expect any kind of recognition. I think that’s very typical of women. I had been acculturated to be supportive, to be accommodating, to support men in the work they do. We never think of getting credit or recognition or even taking the power. We didn’t think it those terms. Of course I think that’s changing now and there’s a surge of women who are not only running for office, but getting elected. That could make an incredible amount of difference in our world. We will never have peace in the world until feminists take power.

How would you define what it means to be a feminist?

To me, a feminist is a person who supports a woman’s reproductive rights, who supports a woman’s right to an abortion, who supports LGBT rights, who supports workers and labor unions, somebody who cares about the environment, who cares about civil rights and equality and equity in terms of our economic system. That is a feminist. And of course we know that there are many men who are feminists as well as women.

(Video) Dolores Huerta I History Time

The film covers a little bit of the moment where you see the link between what you’re working on with the farmworkers and the feminist movement of the time, and the question of whether there was room in the feminism of the 1960s for the women for whom you advocated. Were there any particular moments that made you feel excluded or included?

I have never felt excluded. My mother was a feminist. She was a business woman. She was a dominant force in our family. But when I went to work with the farmworker’s union as an organizer, I kind of had to subdue my feminist tendencies in that respect. Women of color have always been in the forefront, of the civil rights movement and of the labor movement, but when you think about the feminist movement, it was originally organized by middle-class women. That’s why a lot of people have that narrative that feminism is for white women. Lots has been made out of that, but I think sometimes that’s not really fair. That’s the way that it was. But I don’t think the feminist movement was meant to exclude any people of color.

When TIME selected the people speaking out about sexual harassment and assault to be 2017’s Person of the Year, there was a line in the story about farmworkers marching in solidarity with Hollywood actors. When did you first become aware of sexual harassment as an issue affecting farmworkers?

Farmworker women have always been subjected to sexual harassment and rape. The women would have to have sex with the foremen to make sure that they kept their jobs. It was their form of job security to have children by these guys. The thing is, a lot of time you have farmworkers who work as families, so there’s a lot of fear, because if the woman reports sexual harassment from the foreman, then maybe the whole family will get fired. There’s also a threat of violence because her partner could feel that she was responsible for the come-ons, and she could then face violence at home. Also they work out in the fields and they’re kind of isolated. In California, because of the work we did with the farmworkers’ union, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board has included training on sexual harassment as part of the work that they do.

Was that something people were talking about early in this work, or was it hush-hush?

I think people talked about it amongst themselves, and of course we did a lot of work when I worked with the farmworkers’ union to get women to come out and report sexual harassment. Luckily in California, women are able to report sexual harassment and they don’t have to do it openly, they can do it privately.

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Both in the new interviews conducted for this movie and also in older footage of you, there’s a lot of discussion of the ways you balanced motherhood and your work—but Cesar Chavez had children too and you don’t see people asking him about that.

Cesar’s wife Helen did work for a credit union, but she didn’t have to travel like I did, like with the grape boycott, so Cesar’s kids had a kind of happy-mom-at-home-all-the-time experience.

(Video) Dolores Huerta and Peter Bratt of Dolores Documentary

Did anyone ask him or other men you worked with about their choice to focus on their work rather than spending that time with their families?

Probably not. The thing about that is that every single mother in every single working family has that question every single day. Who am I going to leave my children with? Are they going to be safe? Are they going to be protected? That’s something women have to deal with all the time. Watching the movie I thought to myself, wait a minute, this is something we have to advocate for. We have to make sure that the children are not only safe while the families are working, but also that they’re getting a good education. In the movie, they made a big deal out of [how my work affected my children], but what they didn’t say in the movie was that we had a daycare center in the union hall for the mothers on the picket line. We had the first farmworker daycare in the state of California.

Pioneering Labor Activist Dolores Huerta: Women 'Never Think of Getting Credit' But Now That's Changing (3)

The July 4, 1969, cover of TIME

Cover Credit: MANUEL GREGORIO ACOSTA

I went back and looked at the cover story in TIME about the grape boycott in 1969 and it makes the interesting point that the grape growers saw a labor dispute, but the workers saw it as a cultural cause about pride and identity. How did the farmworkers’ cause first become linked to the larger issue of Latino identity?

(Video) Living Self-Portrait: Dolores Huerta - National Portrait Gallery

I think it was inherent in the way the farmworkers were left out of the National Labor Relations Board to begin with. When they [created] the NLRB back in the 1930s, the farmworkers and domestic workers were left out of the law. They were people of color. They were Mexicans and African-Americans. So right at the instant of that it became a civil rights movement. When you think of the fact that they denied the farmworkers toilets in the field, it was the worst kind of brutal discrimination. A lot of this is very racial, about the way the workers were treated. Remember in the South, even as recently as the ‘60s when we organized in Florida, the majority of the farm workers there were African-Americans and people from the islands.

At the time, how did you make that connection for the workers, between their labor rights and their identities?

That’s something that they lived every day of their lives out in the fields. When I came to work with farmworkers — just the fact that I was with them — I was treated differently than when I came forward as a middle-class schoolteacher. When I was in Sacramento as the political director for the United Farm Workers and for the Community Service Organization, you’d have the representatives of the [grape] growers in front of a legislative committee, and they would say, ‘We do these people a favor because they’re a bunch of winos, alcoholics, and nobody will hire them.’ This is the picture that they gave of the farmworkers. I remember going up to this one guy and saying, ‘If you ever say that about farmworkers again I will go out there and talk about how you are a bunch of racists,’ so he changed his tune.

Where do you see American activism going next?

I think we’re in a critical moment. We have all of these tools that are accessible to us now. All this knowledge we have, they can’t hide to truth from us. But at the same time, I’ve been following the movie around this country this last year just to get across this notion that we have to end racism, we have to end misogyny, we have to end homophobia, we have to end bigotry and looking down on our working people. We have to do it through our educational system. We’ve got to include, from pre-K, the contributions of people of color in our schools today, beginning with Native Americans, whose land we took and have never compensated them for, to the African slaves who built the White House and Congress, and then the immigrants who came from Mexico and tilled the land and built the railroads and then the Japanese, the Chinese, people from India, the Latinos, all these people who built the infrastructure of our country. And the contributions of the labor movement! How many people know how we got to eight-hour days? This should all be included in our educational system, so we can get a big giant eraser and erase the ignorance that we have right now in the United States of America.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

FAQs

How did Dolores Huerta fight for women's rights? ›

During the 1990s and 2000s, she worked to elect more Latinos and women to political office and has championed women's issues. The recipient of many honors, Huerta received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

What are 3 interesting facts about Dolores Huerta? ›

In 2002 she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which was involved in community organizing. Her numerous honours include induction (1993) into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Huerta was the subject of the documentary Dolores (2017).

What is Dolores Huerta best known for? ›

Huerta is perhaps best known for her work with Cesar Chavez in leading the unionizing efforts of farm workers in California in the 1960s, but her impact on American life stretches far beyond that.

What did Dolores Huerta do for the civil rights movement? ›

In 1965, Huerta directed the UFW's national boycott during the Delano grape strike, taking the plight of the farm workers to the consumers. She led the organization of boycotts advocating for consumer rights.

What is Dolores Huerta fighting for today? ›

Today, she is the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a non-profit organization in Bakersfield that focuses on equality, health, safety and education through a program called "Vecinos Unidos" or "Neighbor United." The foundation works to unite parents, teachers and students in the classroom.

What did Dolores Huerta do in the farm workers movement in 1966? ›

In 1966, Huerta negotiated a contract between the UFWOC and Schenley Wine Company, the first time that farm workers successfully bargained with an agricultural enterprise.

What obstacles did Dolores Huerta face? ›

She faced violence on the picket lines — and sexism from both the growers she was staring down and their political allies, and from within her own organization.

Why is Dolores Huerta a hero? ›

Dolores is a warrior, an organizer and a peacemaker. When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and their working are under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights.

Why did Huerta leave teaching for the community Service organization? ›

She briefly worked as an elementary school teacher but resigned because she was so distraught over the poor living conditions of her students, many of them children of farm workers.

What strategies did Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta use? ›

Cesar Chávez, alongside Dolores Huerta and other Chicano activists within this organization, defended the rights of farmworkers by employing nonviolent organizing tactics rooted in Catholic social teaching, Chicano identity, and civil rights rhetoric.

Who said Sí se puede? ›

In 1972, during César Chávez's 25-day fast in Phoenix, Arizona, UFW's co-founder, Dolores Huerta, came up with the slogan. "Sí se puede" has long been a UFW guiding principle that has served to inspire accomplishment of goals.

Which activist asked people to boycott grapes? ›

Newly organized farm workers, fronted by Mexican-American civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez, asked Americans to boycott the popular California fruit because of the paltry pay and poor work conditions agricultural laborers were forced to endure.

What was the goal of the United Farm Workers? ›

It seeks to empower migrant farmworkers and to improve their wages and working conditions. The union also works to promote nonviolence and to educate members on political and social issues.

How many ribs did Dolores Huerta break? ›

Bush in San Francisco where police violence against protestors left her with two broken ribs and severe injuries to her spleen.

Which statement best describes the grape boycott that began in 1965? ›

Which statement best describes the grape boycott that began in 1965? It was a long-lived effort that helped migrant workers a great deal.

Was Dolores Huerta feminist? ›

She coined the slogan “Sí, se puede” (Yes, we can) for the farm workers' movement and became a leading figure in the feminist movement of the 1970s. In 2012, President Barack Obama, who used Huerta's phrase in his 2008 campaign, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

How did the bracero program impact domestic workers after WWII ended? ›

In theory, the Bracero Program had safeguards to protect both Mexican and domestic workers for example, guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage received by native workers; employment for three-fourths of the contract period; adequate, sanitary, and free housing; decent meals at reasonable prices; ...

What was a goal of the Delano grape strike? ›

The Delano grape strike was a labor strike organized by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a predominantly Filipino and AFL-CIO-sponsored labor organization, against table grape growers in Delano, California to fight against the exploitation of farm workers.

Does the United Farm Workers still exist? ›

The UFW continues organizing in major agricultural sectors, chiefly in California. The UFW has dozens of union contracts protecting thousands of farm workers, among them agreements with the some of the largest berry, winery, tomato, dairy and mushroom companies in California and the nation.

What challenges did the farmworkers face? ›

Migrant workers lacked educational opportunities for their children, lived in poverty and terrible housing conditions, and faced discrimination and violence when they sought fair treatment. Attempts to organize workers into unions were violently suppressed.

How much were farm workers paid in the 1960s? ›

Some 742,000 workers had California farm earnings in 1965, up from 571,000 in 1964.
...
Annual earningsFarm work onlyFarm and nonfarm work
Total workers92,52576,675
Median earnings$3,181$2,817
6 more rows
27 Aug 2020

What is Dolores Huerta legacy? ›

Dolores Huerta's life is part of our collective history of resistance. She is a living link between radical ideas for social change that have defined today's movements for racial justice, worker rights and feminist thought.

Where is Dolores Huerta today? ›

Dolores Huerta, 91, is a labor movement leader and civil rights activist who worked with César Chávez to co-found the National Farm Workers Association. Huerta was the first Latina inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and is still working as an activist and civil rights leader today.

Which famous political figure was involved in the boycott of grapes in the 1960s? ›

In addition to ending the calls for violence, the hunger strike drew further attention to the movement, earning praise from figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The union, by then known as the United Farm Workers, also called for a boycott of table grapes.

How old is Dolores Huerta today? ›

Who is Dolores Huerta for kids? ›

Dolores Huerta is an American activist. She worked to earn rights for migrant farmworkers, or laborers who move from place to place to work on farms. Huerta, along with Cesar Chavez, organized migrant farmworkers into the labor union that would become the United Farm Workers of America.

What was the reason behind the creation of the National farm workers Association? ›

Chavez had found his calling. It was 1952. He began organizing campaigns against discrimination and directing voter registration drives. He knew he wanted farm workers be at the center of his work, however, and decided to form a new organization.

Which of the following was not something that Chavez's labor union lobbied for? ›

Which of the following was not something that Chavez's labor union lobbied for? paid vacation. Why did Chavez help organize a grape boycott?

What school did Dolores Huerta teach? ›

Dolores Huerta

Who were Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (12)

Cesar Chavez was an American labor leader and Latino American civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later renamed the United Farm Workers union.

What strategies did both Cesar Chavez and the Ufwoc use to achieve their goals How did they successfully apply these tactics? ›

What strategies did both Cesar Chavez and the UFWOC use to achieve their goals? How did they successfully apply these tactics? By unionizing. Chavez + his organizers insisted California's large fruit + veggie companies accept their union as the bargaining agent for their farm workers.

What are 3 interesting facts about Dolores Huerta? ›

In 2002 she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which was involved in community organizing. Her numerous honours include induction (1993) into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Huerta was the subject of the documentary Dolores (2017).

What is the English translation of Si Se Puede quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (5)

What is the English translation of "si se puede?" Yes, it can be done."

Why do you think Chávez chose a hunger strike as a form of protest? ›

Why do you think Chavez chose a hunger strike as a form of protest? This non-violent approach not only gained a lot of attention, it encouraged those in his movement who might turn to violence to follow his lead.

How did Dolores Huerta change the world? ›

Huerta championed women's rights in feminist campaigns during her time off from union work. She also fought for ethnic diversity in her campaigns. Huerta was an honorary co-chair of the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Why was the grape boycott successful? ›

The protest that began in the fields in Delano grew into a broader boycott that asked for help from consumers in urban areas. By 1970, the UFW grape boycott was a success. Table grape growers signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections.

What were some of the sacrifices the farm workers made during their struggle? ›

What were some of the sacrifices farmworkers made during the struggle? Farmworkers paid a great price for their involvement in the movement. Most lost their jobs, cars and homes. the everyday worker makes a union the powerhouse that it is.

Is there a farm workers union? ›

The United Farm Workers of America, or more commonly just United Farm Workers (UFW), is a labor union for farmworkers in the United States.

How did Dolores Huerta help farmers? ›

Throughout her work with the UFW, Huerta organized workers, negotiated contracts, advocated for safer working conditions including the elimination of harmful pesticides. She also fought for unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers.

Who created the United Farm Workers? ›

United Farm Workers

Why did Dolores Huerta fight? ›

Dolores Huerta devoted her life to fighting discrimination against farmworkers. Change is what she wanted, what she preached, and what helped inspire a nation of farm laborers to stand up.

What obstacles did Dolores Huerta face? ›

She faced violence on the picket lines — and sexism from both the growers she was staring down and their political allies, and from within her own organization.

What is the meaning of Si Se Puede? ›

"Sí se puede" is usually translated in English as "It can be done", or "Yes you can". The more literal translation that the United Farm Workers uses is "Yes, it can be done!"

Which ethnic group fought for immigration policy reform during the 1960s quizlet? ›

Which ethnic group fought for immigration policy reform during the 1960s? China.

What did Mexican American farm workers do in September 1965? ›

On September 8, 1965, over 800 Filipino farmworkers affiliated with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) struck ten grape vineyards around Delano. They demanded a raise both in their hourly wages, from $1.25 to $1.40, and in the piece rate (the pay a worker earned for each box of grapes packed).

Was Dolores Huerta feminist? ›

She coined the slogan “Sí, se puede” (Yes, we can) for the farm workers' movement and became a leading figure in the feminist movement of the 1970s. In 2012, President Barack Obama, who used Huerta's phrase in his 2008 campaign, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Why is Dolores Huerta a hero? ›

Dolores is a warrior, an organizer and a peacemaker. When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and their working are under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights.

What influenced Dolores Huerta? ›

Huerta said growing up in Stockton, where her friends and neighbors were from all corners of the world, and attending Pacific had an impact on her trajectory as an activist and organizer. “University of Pacific had such a great influence on my life,” she told the online audience.

What did Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez do? ›

César Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Which ethnic group fought for immigration policy reform during the 1960's? ›

Which ethnic group fought for immigration policy reform during the 1960s? China.

Which famous political figure was involved in the boycott of grapes in the 1960s? ›

In addition to ending the calls for violence, the hunger strike drew further attention to the movement, earning praise from figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The union, by then known as the United Farm Workers, also called for a boycott of table grapes.

Who worked with César Chávez? ›

Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Italian nobleman who gave up his material wealth to live with and work on behalf of the poor. Working doggedly to build the NFWA alongside fellow organizer Dolores Huerta, Chavez traveled around the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys to recruit union members.

What is the meaning of Si Se Puede? ›

"Sí se puede" is usually translated in English as "It can be done", or "Yes you can". The more literal translation that the United Farm Workers uses is "Yes, it can be done!"

What obstacles did Dolores Huerta face? ›

She faced violence on the picket lines — and sexism from both the growers she was staring down and their political allies, and from within her own organization.

Which activist organized a grape boycott? ›

Many who have heard of César Chavez do not know the name of Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, who led the grape boycott while raising eleven children. Born in a small New Mexico mining town, Huerta grew up in Stockton in California's San Joaquín Valley.

How many ribs did Dolores Huerta break? ›

Bush in San Francisco where police violence against protestors left her with two broken ribs and severe injuries to her spleen.

Who along with Dolores Huerta founded the United Farm Workers of America? ›

Cesar Chávez, alongside Dolores Huerta and other Chicano activists within this organization, defended the rights of farmworkers by employing nonviolent organizing tactics rooted in Catholic social teaching, Chicano identity, and civil rights rhetoric.

What is Dolores Huerta legacy? ›

Dolores Huerta's life is part of our collective history of resistance. She is a living link between radical ideas for social change that have defined today's movements for racial justice, worker rights and feminist thought.

What was the goal of the farm labor movement? ›

The goal of the farm labor movement was to fight for better wages, housing, and working conditions for farmworkers in the United States.

Why was the grape boycott important? ›

The Delano grape strike is most notable for the effective implementation and adaptation of boycotts, the unprecedented partnership between Filipino and Mexican farm workers to unionize farm labor, and the resulting creation of the UFW labor union, all of which revolutionized the farm labor movement in America.

What is the goal of the United Farm Workers? ›

It seeks to empower migrant farmworkers and to improve their wages and working conditions. The union also works to promote nonviolence and to educate members on political and social issues.

Videos

1. An Interview with Dolores Huerta
(Northern California Public Media)
2. Dolores Huerta: Negotiating Identities in Service of Social Justice | Sandra Garcia Virtual Lecture
(Glendale Library Arts & Culture)
3. Filmmaker Peter Bratt and Activist Dolores Huerta on DOLORES
(Kamla Show)
4. City Arts & Lectures presents Dolores Huerta & Alice Waters in conversation with Davia Nelson
(City Arts & Lectures)
5. Celebrating "One Life: Dolores Huerta"
(Library of Congress)
6. Discussion with Dolores Huerta
(Oakland Public Library)
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