Apr 4, 2017

Dolores Huerta on Cesar Chavez Day: "Keep on Organizing"

April 2, 2017

Dolores Huerta's Message on Cesar Chavez Day: "Keep on Organizing"

By Kent Paterson/Correspondent

Dolores Huerta (Photo by Gage

Skidmore)
Only days shy from celebrating her 87th birthday, Dolores Huerta shows no signs of giving up the good fight. Looking much younger than her years, Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) along with Cesar Chavez, continues a life-long quest for justice and equality into the era of President Donald Trump.
 
Seasoned in union, Latino, environmental and other struggles since the Eisenhower administration, Huerta maintains an optimistic perspective after enduring tough times and witnessing countless conflicts and changes.

"It's very overt what's going on. It was happening with Nixon and Reagan, but it was covert. It's visible. In a way, I think it's good because we can attack it," Huerta told this reporter shortly before delivering a speech at the annual Cesar Chavez Day celebration in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The woman who once served as the UFW's chief negotiator with California growers, contended that the women's, environmental, LGBTQ and other movements which rose in the 1960s and 1970s are now "institutionalized" and "better positioned" to carry on the fight than decades ago.

For Huerta, a sampling of pressing issues include halting the deportations of immigrants, defending the environment and bolstering the labor movement, a force she called an "endangered species."

The native New Mexican was honored the morning of April 1 by community members and elected officials at an Albuquerque ceremony held to rename a local park Dolores Huerta Gateway Park. The site is located at the upper end of the South Valley, in the heart of Albuquerque's Chicano and Mexicano communities.

"It makes me feel very proud, very humble, very honored," Huerta said, adding that the real honor goes to the "millions of people" who marched, boycotted and even died in the fields.

Later in the day, Huerta, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012, was introduced to an enthusiastic crowd at Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center by Albuquerque’s Republican mayor and possible 2018 gubernatorial contender, Richard Berry, who praised the historic union organizer's life-long work. While Berry was speaking, numerous attendees began chanting "ICE out of Albuquerque!" and "Shame," in reference to the deportation arm of the federal government.

Taking the stage attired in a red coat topped with a flowery scarf, an energetic Huerta quickly elicited boos from the crowd when she mentioned Attorney General Jeff Session's vows to cut off federal aid to so-called sanctuary cities. "Yes, we have to have sanctuary cities," Huerta continued amid cheers, proclaiming that Albuquerque should join California cities in the movement.

"Long live Dolores Huerta," thundered back a crowd of old and young alike that had braved a chilly rain to march and then gather at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. As the afternoon clouds broke, snow was revealed on the Sandia Mountains just east of the Duke City.

"I know it was cold today, but we New Mexicans are tough and we're not going to let it stop us from celebrating Cesar Chavez Day or Dolores Huerta Park...we're not going to let them stop people from celebrating LGBTQ, environmental, women’s rights..." the UFW'S co-founder said to the delight of the assembled.

During her Albuquerque visit, Huerta emphasized Gandhian, non-violent resistance, turning mass protest into grassroots organizing, and linking popular mobilization with the power of the vote. She pointed to the work of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a California-based non-profit founded by Huerta which sponsors projects focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, healthcare, education, neighborhood improvement and other vital issues. 

"All of us know what we need to do-keep on organizing, organizing, organizing," Huerta said. Displaying the spunk that made her a legend in the fields of California, Huerta led the crowd in chants of "People Power," "New Mexico Power," and, of course, the UFW's "Si Se Puede." 
"I hope to back here next year to celebrate with you," she added.

Organized by the Recuerda a Cesar Chavez Committee and sponsored by local governments and community organizations, the Duke City's Annual Cesar Chavez Day also featured community booths, live music, traditional Mexican dancing, short speeches, and the 11th Annual "Si Se Puede" Awards.

This year's Dolores Huerta Award went to Rosa Isela Cervantes, current director of El Centro de la Raza at the University of New Mexico, while the Cesar E. Chavez Award was given to Enrique Cardiel, a veteran activist and community leader who's participated student, cultural and political movements.

The 2017 co-chairs of the Recuerda a Cesar Chavez Committee were Kira Luna and Chuy Martinez, musician and longtime City of Albuquerque cultural worker who hails from a farmworker background.

Born Dolores Clara Fernandez on April 10, 1930 in Dawson, New Mexico, an old mining town near the Colorado border, Dolores Huerta calls herself a "coal miner's daughter." The small town was the scene of a 1913 mine explosion that left 263 workers dead. Mostly, the victims were immigrants from Europe and Mexico.

According to a 100-year remembrance article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the death toll made Dawson the second largest mining disaster in U.S. history. A second disaster that struck Dawson in 1923 killed 132 miners, including sons of the 1913 victims. 

Huerta’s father, Juan Fernandez, was a union activist who served in the New Mexico State Legislature in the 1930s. Though Huerta moved to California when she was six years old, she never forgets her New Mexico roots and still has a big family in the Land of Enchantment.

"I'm always glad to come back to New Mexico. People should always come back to get humanized," she told this reporter.

Produced by Peter Bratt, Carlos Santana and Brian Benson, a new documentary about Dolores Huerta's life premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

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Journalist-author Kent Paterson is an expert on U.S.-Mexico border issues and Mexican politics. He served as editor of Frontera NorteSur from 2005 to 2016.