In the short span of the past three weeks, the farmworker community has had much to celebrate.
National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), where AFOP once again saw incredible success with our annual Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive, spanned seven full days at the end of March. The nationwide events culminated on the 31st with the birthday of icon and first president of the United Farm Workers (UFW), Cesar Chavez. However, some of the most popular NFAW events this year were screenings of the new PBS documentary Dolores, which weaves the story of a less-lauded leader of the farmworker movement.
She is Dolores Huerta, and today she celebrates her 88th birthday as active as she’s ever been.
Dolores’ leadership is alive and well here in Washington D.C., where we’re lucky enough to be a destination for her frequent visits. In honor of her birthday we visited our training partner and next-door neighbor Ms. Delia Garcia, who besides being Executive Director of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) has been a close companion of Dolores beginning work alongside her in 2004.
How would someone close to her describe Dolores? “Energizing, inspiring, and adventurous,” says Delia. “She communicates with her heart, mind, and soul – amor (love) drives her method of tireless grassroots organization and non-violent action. Dolores Huerta’s contributions to our migrant and seasonal farmworker community has been monumental and profound through her setting the foundation to make sure farmworker families receive the right pay, respect, and dignity for their work. She spoke up when many others wouldn’t, and at times was the only woman to do so.”
Best known for her role as co-founder and pivotal leader of the UFW, Dolores was a young mother in the early 1950’s when she turned to the cause of farmworker labor rights. In Stockton, California, where she did much of her growing up, she began the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) which would later merge with Cesar Chavez’ National Farm Workers Association to form the UFW in 1965. “She’s been on the front lines for over 70 years,” recalls Delia,” and continues to lead by example and usher in other leaders across the country.”
As female Latina leader throughout many years which would become historical to securing labor rights for minority populations within the U.S., Dolores has remained a symbolic figure despite monumental odds. “She continues to have schools, avenues, films, books, buildings, and awards named in her honor,” Delia notes. “The UFW, former President Obama, and others continue to honor Dolores by using her famous words of wisdom: ‘Sí Se Puede,’ or, ‘Yes We Can.’ “
Most recently, Dolores the film serves to reveal more than ever of the icon’s background, motivations, and hurdles – even her complicated family life. “I’ve seen Dolores [the film] various times,” says Delia. “I cry every time out of inspiration and remind myself that I can do more – that it is a responsibility to my family and community. She is a true trailblazer of social justice in our U.S. history, demonstrating real leadership by example, and continues [leading] to this day.”
Even after stepping down from the UFW in 1999, Dolores expanded her organizational skills and activism to broader advocacy for farmworkers as well as mentoring others in political leadership: particularly young, female, and Latinx populations.
“I was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives and [Dolores] supported my run,” says Delia. “We became sisters in social justice, both members of the Kappa Delta Chi Service Sorority Inc. Dolores’ life work has absolutely influenced me personally and professionally, and continues to inspire me to fight the good fight – no matter what!”
Today, “at age 88 with the energy of a 28-year-old,” perhaps the real question is: how will Dolores celebrate her birthday?
“She will celebrate by organizing our community around social justice somehow,” laughs Delia. “When I spoke to her last week, she said she would be doing a training on redistricting and the census with the growing staff of her Dolores Huerta Foundation, then traveling to Virginia to support congressional candidate Alison Freidman. After that she’ll celebrate briefly with her family in Bakersfield, California. Never a dull moment!”
We certainly wouldn’t expect such an iconic activist to celebrate sitting down.
Leaders like Dolores have laid the groundwork for incalculable advancements in labor rights and inspired countless others – like us here at AFOP – to work tirelessly for farmworker justice. Happy birthday to the one and only Dolores Huerta; we wish you 88 more!
A special thanks to NMSHSA Executive Director Delia Garcia for her generosity in contributing to this article through written interview.