Dolores Huerta: Valiant Warrior for Human Rights

by Nina Deerfield and Marco Lopez

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta

Rare, and powerful indeed, is the woman to whom the most powerful man in the world apologizes. The story goes that at a White House event honoring her some years ago, President Obama somewhat sheepishly approached Dolores Huerta and did just that, for using a rallying cry she coined and he used in his election campaign. The slogan, first used by farmworkers organizing in Arizona is “Si Se Puéde” (Yes We Can). No harm done, for as powerful a woman as she is she keeps her ego well in check. Contrary to popular belief, it was Dolores and not Cesar Chávez (UFW co-founder) who gave birth to this ever popular, populist saying. She, however, proudly and emphatically proclaimed this fact a few days ago in San Marcos, as a lesson perhaps, to encourage women to be more assertive. She got a respectful laugh from all, women and men alike as she smiled behind her ever-roving, penetratingly bright eyes.

On April 9, 2015, we at Alianza were very proud and fortunate to attend a talk given by Dolores and sponsored by a number of academic and student organizations at CSUSM. For well over one hour she walked the audience through what might have been a college lecture covering at least seven academic disciplines. Her talk, delivered in a friendly and unhurried manner, was filled with wisdom, anecdotes, passion and humor. The full to capacity house at the university’s student union enthusiastically received her words.

Dolores opened by speaking of how immigration into the United States has been caused by economic displacement occurring when multinational corporations such as Chiquita, who by reaping all the profits from Central America’s natural resources, thereby impoverish the small farmers who are in turn forced to abandon their countries and seek a livelihood in the states. Likewise, imprudent trade treaties the likes of NAFTA, have created havoc for workers and unions on both the US and Mexican side. US jobs were lost, first to Mexico and then China, where wages are lower. Recently we here in North County have witnessed the ramifications of this dislocation with Escondido’s inhumane rejection of unaccompanied children. They are now in Texas living in deplorable conditions. (See, Laura Kohl’s article) She also fully endorsed the farm workers’ strike in San Quintín, Baja California.

One of the strong central themes of the presentation dealt with education and the disparities in the funding of public schools. It is evident, for instance, that charter schools, often religion-based, reactionary and discriminatory, are siphoning tax monies from the public schools. (See, Rick Mercurio “Charters and Religion“) She made mention too of litigation joined in by the Dolores Huerta Foundation against the Kern county school district, which is quick to suspend and expel Mexican-American and Black kids resulting in drop-out rates of over fifty percent. She went on to note that state monies allocated to schools and regulated by the Local Control Funding Formula (“LCFF”) are earmarked for English learners, low-income, and foster children yet are being illegally distributed district-wide in violation of mandated standards. This is all being done, she emphasized, without the required input of the target student subgroups and the parents of those students. She strongly urged those in attendance to ask pointed questions as to what practices and policies are in place in their own school districts.

In the arena of taxation Dolores proposed it is only fair that those who are in position to contribute more to California’s tax base ought to continue to be legislatively required to do so. In a 1-2-3 formula, tax increases for those earning $1 million+/500 thousand+/250 thousand+, at a rate of 3%, 2% and 1% respectively.

While her comments were directed to all in the audience, she at times spoke directly to the women in attendance. She encouraged them to break out of the societal mold they were born into and assert themselves in all areas. Obtaining a higher education, she emphasized, was more secure and preferable than to wait for the idyllic “knight in shining armor,” one who once children are born, or once he finds a younger women, might ride off into the sunset. Her strong position on human rights includes a warm and unconditional embrace of the LGBTQ communities, emphasizing, “We are all in this together.” Any discriminatory statement of whatever sort, even if casual, she suggested should immediately be addressed as intolerable.

Interspersed throughout her lecture was the importance and necessity of voting oneself and encouraging every single friend, colleague and family member to do the same.  It is obvious that to Dolores, embracing humanity is not the same as being “tolerant” of others, but is instead based on the fact that we are truly all one, all homo sapiens, and all in this together. Indeed.

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