Happy Wednesday! This week is performance week for the show choir I’m in, so I haven’t really had ample time to conduct new research…but worry not, my friends. For AP U.S. History last year, we had a project where we had to research and role play as an important figure from the 1970’s. We were given a pre-approved list of figures; around 75% of the figures were men, and all but two of the women were fashion models with little to no societal or political impact. I knew there were prominent female figures during the time period that held great impact in the cultural movements of the 70’s, so I chose to pick my own figure and go through the process of getting her approved. Thus, I chose, for both the project and now this week’s WCW, Dolores Huerta.
Beginning in the 1960’s and continuing still today, Dolores Huerta is a successful lobbyist and activist fighting for civil and equal rights for women, children, workers, and LGBT citizens. Born in 1930 in Dawson, New Mexico, Huerta was inspired to pursue a lifestyle of helping others and advocating equality by her mother, who had an extremely independent, entrepreneurial, and compassionate spirit. Additionally, her father’s position on the New Mexico legislature and as a union activist influenced her approach to achieving social change via the legal process and non-violent protests.
Following her education at the University of Pacific’s Delta College, Huerta was initially a teacher in an elementary school in Stockton, California. Huerta noticed that many of her students came from families struggling financially and legally, and decided that she “could do more by organizing farm workers than teaching their hungry children”. So she left formal teaching and began her leadership in the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO). While serving in the CSO, Huerta founded the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA), which quickly organized voter registration drives and advocated for local barrio improvements. Her work in the AWA connected her to well-known activist César Chavez. The pair decided that the CSO didn’t have specific enough of a mission; they both resigned from their positions and founded the National Farm Workers Association, which was later named the United Farm Workers union (UFW). The UFW successfully secured legislation for their cause, including disability insurance, better wages and working conditions, and union rights, through the use of non-violent protests and boycotts, like the National Boycott of California Table Grapes that lasted from 1965 to 1970. While working for the farm workers movement, Huerta noticed that gender discrimination was not only at play in the American society of the 1970’s, but also in the movement. Unknowingly, simply her work in the CSO, AWA, and UFW was breaking down gender norms and barriers and inspiring women everywhere. During her organizing of the grape boycott, Huerta connected with Gloria Steinem, and soon became extremely active in the feminist movement. Huerta was a large part of the nationwide Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power Campaign, which sought to encourage Latina participation in government. For more than fifty years, Huerta has been giving lectures and leading demonstrations across America and in Mexico, advocating equality and social justice for all humans.
Huerta encouraged non-violent protesting, not only since it makes sense morally and generally is better received by government authorities, but because, in a movement to protect rights, human safety was key. However, at a peaceful protest against presidential candidate George H. W. Bush’s planned policies in 1988 in San Francisco, police assaulted her, breaking four ribs and shattering her spleen. Not one to back down from something she believed in, this attack didn’t stop Huerta; she took a stronger role in the feminist movement, and her supporters in the public pushed for crowd control policy reform in the San Francisco Police Department.
Huerta has received many awards for her work and tenacity, including, most notably, the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, the Ohtli Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Additionally, she was named one of Ms. Magazine’s Three Most Important Women of 1997, and has received nine honorary doctorates from various American universities.
I was dumbfounded as to why Huerta wasn’t included in the list of figures for my project. She was a prominent figure in the political world, as through her strong negotiation and organizational skills she led improvements in legislation in regards to women’s, children’s, LGBT, workers’, and civil rights and justice. Unlike many of the pre-approved figures, Huerta wasn’t seeking fame for fame’s sake; she sought after change and equality, and her impassioned work and legal success brought the public eye to her. If Huerta had any flaws, they were never made public – she dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of others, and was never involved any scandalous activity. In addition to all of her above work, Huerta was openly against US involvement in the Vietnam War, as she participated and was a leading speaker at many protesting conventions and demonstrations.
It’s hard to tell if she will be included in textbooks, as her work is vast and more than worthy, but several factors are against her. Huerta deserves to be in textbooks because her work was groundbreaking and successful, and benefited so many, but is unlikely to be included since she was most active in a time when women were still not well-received by the media and/or the public, focused on domestic legislation when foreign affairs were deemed more important, and advocated for equal rights for people who, still to this day unfortunately, are looked down upon by many Americans. Dolores Huerta is a hugely impactful and important individual in American history, and it’s a shame that we don’t learn more about her in class.
After learning about her, Huerta has become one of my favorite role models. She is actually one of the people who has inspired me to pursue a career in law, in the hopes that I’ll be able to help people find the legal and cultural justice that she so passionately fought for.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!