The Feminist Seed Is Planted
Dolores Clara Fernandez was born on April 10, 1930 in Dawson, a small mining town in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Her father Juan Fernández, a farm worker and miner by trade, was a union activist who ran for political office and won a seat in the New Mexico legislature in 1938. Dolores spent most of her childhood and early adult life in
According to Dolores, her mother’s independence and entrepreneurial spirit was one of the primary reasons she became a feminist. Dolores’ mother Alicia was known for her kindness and compassion towards others. She offered rooms at affordable rates in her 70 room hotel, which she acquired after years of hard work. Alicia welcomed low-wage workers in the hotel, and often, waived the fee for them altogether. She was an active participant in community affairs, involved in numerous civic organizations and the church. Alicia encouraged the cultural diversity that was a natural part of Dolores’ upbringing in
Alicia’s community activism was reflected in Dolores’ involvement as a student at Stockton High School. She was active in numerous school clubs, was a majorette, and a dedicated member of the Girl Scouts until the age of 18. Upon graduating Dolores continued her education at the
An Organizer is Born
Dolores found her calling as an organizer while serving in the leadership of the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO). During this time she founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements. It was in 1955 through CSO founder Fred Ross, Sr. that she would meet a likeminded colleague, CSO Executive Director César E. Chávez. The two soon discovered that they shared a common vision of organizing farm workers, an idea that was not in line with the CSO’s mission.
As a result, in the spring of 1962 César and Dolores resigned, and launched the National Farm Workers Association. Dolores’ organizing skills were essential to the growth of this budding organization. The challenges she faced as a woman did not go unnoted and in one of her letters to Cesar she joked…”Being a now (ahem) experienced lobbyist, I am able to speak on a man-to-man basis with other lobbyists.”
The first testament to her lobbying and negotiating talents were demonstrated in securing Aid For Dependent Families ("AFDC") and disability insurance for farm workers in the State of California in 1963, an unparalleled feat of the times. She was also instrumental in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This was the first law of its kind in the
While the farm workers lacked financial capitol they were able to wield significant power at the ballot box. As the principal legislative advocate, Dolores became one of the UFW’s most visible spokespersons. Robert F. Kennedy acknowledged her help in winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential Primary moments before he was shot in
As much as she was Cesar's right hand she could also be the greatest thorn in his side. The two were infamous for their blow out arguments an element that was a natural part of their working relationship. Dolores viewed this as a healthy and necessary part of the growth process of any worthwhile collaboration. While Dolores was busy breaking down one gender barrier after another, she was seemingly unaware of the tremendous impact she was having on, not only farm worker woman but also young women everywhere.
Dolores initially dismissed the 1960’s women’s liberation movement as a “middle-class phenomenon”. However while directing the first National Boycott of California Table Grapes out of
Non-Violence Is Our Strength
Early on, Dolores advocated for the entire families’ participation in the movement for after all it was men, women and children together out in the fields picking, thinning and hoeing. Thus the practice of non-violence was not only a philosophy but a very necessary approach in providing for the safety of all. Her life and the safety of those around her were in jeopardy on countless occasions. The greatest sacrifice to the movement was made by five martyrs all of whom she knew personally.
At age 58 Dolores suffered her most life-threatening assault while protesting against the policies of then presidential candidate George Bush in
Following a lengthy recovery she took a leave of absence from the union to focus on women’s rights. She traversed the country for two years on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the year 2000 Campaign encouraging
Her Second Wind
At 81, Dolores Huerta continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women and children. As voluntary President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she travels across the country speaking to students and organizations about issues of social justice and public policy.
There are thousands of working poor immigrants in the agriculture rich
Dolores teaches that these individuals that they have power and that personal power needs to be coupled with responsibility and cooperation to create the changes needed to improve their lives.
It is rarely practiced today because it is tedious and time consuming. However, the results are long lasting and while people are in the process of building organization, they are learning lessons they will never forget and the transformative roots are planted. The fruit is the leadership that is developed and the permanent changes in the community. In other words, this is how grass roots democracy works.
Recognitions And Awards
There are four elementary schools in
She has received numerous awards among them the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in l998, Ms. Magazine’s one of the three most important women of l997, Ladies Home Journal’s 100 most important woman of the 20t Century, Puffin Foundation award for Creative Citizenship Labor Leader Award 1984, Kern County’s Woman of The Year by California State legislature,the Ohtli award from the Mexican Government, Smithsonian Institution - James Smithson Award, and Nine Honorary Doctorates from Universities throughout the United States.