In 2014, President Barack Obama declared that Cesar Chavez’s birthday, March 31, would be recognized as a federal commemorative holiday but throughout his heroics, the labor leader’s “indispensable, lifelong ally” was Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta, who was born April 10, 1930, and today celebrates her 93rd birthday.
Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Cesar Chavez in 1962, has spent her life fighting for the rights of workers and marginalized communities. Throughout her career, she has been a vocal advocate for farmworkers, immigrants, and women.
Dolores Huerta is the civil rights activist who, with Chavez, co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Huerta’s community activism began when she was a student at Stockton High School, where she was active in numerous extracurricular activities, and became a majorette and a dedicated member of the Girl Scouts until the age of 18.
Having experienced marginalization because she was Hispanic, Huerta grew up with the belief that society needed to be changed. After attending college and briefly teaching elementary school, Huerta began her lifelong crusade to correct economic injustice.
In 1962, she and Chávez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. Huerta was the only woman to ever sit on the board of the UFW, until 2018.
The phrase she coined, “Sí se puede” (Yes, we can), had two lives — as a rallying cry in the 1960s for Latino workers seeking basic rights, and as the galvanizing political slogan, translated into English, that aided the 2008 election of the first black president of the United States.
In 2012, Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, joking that “Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan. … Knowing her, I’m pleased that she let me off easy — because Dolores does not play.”
Huerta has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors throughout her career, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Civil Rights Commission National Freedom Award, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award and the Dolores Huerta Labor Leader Award, which was named in her honor.
At age 93, Huerta is a bona fide civil-rights icon, celebrated in murals, corridos, and museum exhibits for her steely feminism in the face of the male-dominated labor movement, her unwavering belief in nonviolent protest, and her lifelong commitment to workers’ rights.
The labor movement is in Huerta’s blood.
Both her grandfathers worked as miners in Dawson; her father Juan Fernández, a state legislator, was a miner, farm worker, and union activist. Her mother, who moved the family to Stockton, California, following her divorce from Fernández when Huerta was three, helped to organize a cannery workers’ union strike in 1940.
After Huerta and Chávez co-founded what became the United Farm Workers, her organizational efforts proved instrumental to the 1965 Delano grape strike; she then negotiated the groundbreaking workers’ contract that resulted from the picket.
In the 1970s, she coordinated a national lettuce boycott and worked to pass the 1975 Agricultural Relations Act, the first law to institute the rights of farm workers to bargain collectively.
Despite her many accomplishments, Huerta remains committed to the fight for social justice. In her statement, she emphasized the importance of continuing to work towards a more just and equitable society. “We must continue to stand together and fight for the rights of all people, no matter who they are or where they come from,” she said.
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