From The Fields To Fame: Dolores Huerta Makes Her Voice Heard

Determined, strong, opinionated, compassionate and smart are only a few adjectives used to describe Dolores Huerta. Her life has been one of adventure and hard work, and she is not slowing down any time soon. At the age of 74, Huerta is most famous for her work alongside Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy during the 1960s United Farm Workers (UFW) campaign. She organized a nationwide boycott against the table grape industry to improve compensation and working conditions for Mexican and Filipino workers in California, and she pushed for legislation to protect these workers in the field. Huerta has 11 children and is currently traveling the country as the Chair of the National Women’s Campaign for Presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry and his running-mate Senator John Edwards. Sponsored by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Huerta’s lecture Thursday night drew a diverse audience to Love Auditorium. Some students attended hoping to hear her reminisce about Chavez and Kennedy, while others wanted to hear her stance on campaign controversies. All in attendance got an earful, as Huerta spoke on topics ranging from United States history pre-Christopher Columbus to legislation regarding same sex marriages. She encouraged students to have their voices heard, to participate in politics and to incite change when change is necessary. “Maybe we can consider this the anti-Columbus Day celebration,” she said. “And maybe someday we can change [Columbus Day] to Cesar Chavez day.”She opened her speech with examples, including Columbus Day, of how the United States has failed to right its wrongs throughout history. After explaining how Native Americans, African Americans and Asians helped build the foundation of the United States with little recognition, she said, “It would be so much better if we taught the real history of America.” According to Huerta, racism is still very prevalent in our society today.”We are all African,” Huerta repeated on several occasions, as she reminded students that every human being in our country originally descended from Africa.”I’m not saying people should feel guilty about their race, but the thing is that we have to know we have a responsibility to end racism in our society,” Huerta said. “Look at our colleges, in our airplanes, in decision-making positions of power- how many people of color and women do you see in these places?” Huerta was quick to point out that people of color make up 75 percent of the world, while 52 percent of the population is female. She then asked students to figure out why the U.S. House of Representatives is barely 25 percent female and why there are only two female senators.”At the rate we’re going to get gender and racial balance [in our government], it’ll only take us about 200 years,” Huerta said sarcastically. “Are we willing to wait that long?” Huerta’s suggestions for eradicating prejudice resonated with many audience members. “I think thatTDoloros Huerta is such an inspiration to people of color,” said sophomore Sirikit Benja-Athonsirikul. “Throughout her lecture, she talked about the need forTpeople of color to aspire to positions of power. She stressed that it is our responsibility to break these stereotypes and get involved by running for things such as Student Government and City Council. I think this is an extremely important issue which has not been stressed enough. Mostly because we don’t have enough representation of miniority populations in such positions of authority.”Next, Huerta spoke about the seriousness of female brutality.”Women are not sex objects; we are people,” Huerta said. “As I’m standing here speaking, there are women out there getting raped, beaten and murdered. We need to put an end to this.” She mentioned the important role her mother played in making sure she knew what equal opportunity meant from childhood. “If we think of everything in this world- like life itself- it all starts with a man and a woman,” Huerta said. “A real man is one who supports women.” One way to fight back against discrimination is through education. “When you get an education, your voice gets louder,” Huerta said. She used Chavez to exemplify that every bit of learning counts. “Even though he was only schooled until the eighth grade, he believed that the most important type of education one can get is the education of the heart,” she said. Huerta explained her discomfort over the government’s push to privatize education. “I know this is a private college, but this is one of the things the movement fought against,” she said. She used this opportunity to support Kerry’s education plans and future opportunities. After discussing the greed and fraud of current big-money corporations, Huerta closed her speech by challenging audience members to run for “any type of office.” She used the last few minutes of her presentation to criticize President George W. Bush and highlight Kerry, while she detailed what life is like on the campaign trail. “It’s your generation who needs to go out there and make sure your society is governed by democracy, not corporations,” Huerta said. She taught the audience inspiring Spanish and South African words and ended her speech by saying, “We’re all related. We’re one human race.” Although audience members were divided over Huerta’s political status, most thoroughly enjoyed her presentation. “It was interesting when she compared organizing a social movement to exercising,” sophomore Laura Lunn said. “Huerta said that while you are [organizing] you will feel tired and endure pain, but afterward you feel rewarded and stronger. Her passion was inspirational, and her energy was contagious. She has enabled so much social change and a greater public consciousness, all of which is extremely admirable.” Some students, however, expressed different feelings, such as junior Pat Bauer. “Personally, I found her lecture kind of offensive,” she said. “It seemed to me more like a campaign speech rather than a college lecture. She seemed to be pushing her views on the audience more than just trying to explain her involvement in the UFW and other such organizations, which is why I attented the lecture.” Before Huerta left the podium, she informed the audience that the money Colgate paid her to speak was being donated to her foundation. “Her selflessness was incredible, refusing to retain a dime of the honorary Colgate gave her, as well as her devotion to the Kerry campaign as a volunteer to chair ‘Women for Kerry,'” junior Amy Dudley said.