Dolores Huerta

Labor Leader

Dolores Huerta, 1975
Dolores Huerta, 1975. Cathy Murphy/Getty Images

Known for: co-founder and a leader of the United Farm Workers

Dates: April 10, 1930 -
Occupation: labor leader and organizer, social activist
Also known as: Dolores Fernández Huerta

About Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta was born in 1930 in Dawson, New Mexico. Her parents, Juan and Alicia Chavez Fernandez, divorced when she was very young, and she was raised by her mother in Stockton, California, with the active help of her grandfather, Herculano Chavez.

Her mother worked two jobs when Dolores was very young. Her father watched the grandchildren. During World War II, Alicia Fernandez Richards, who had remarried, ran a restaurant and then a hotel, where Dolores Huerta helped out as she grew older. Alicia divorced her second husband, who had not related well to Dolores, and married Juan Silva. Huerta has credited her maternal grandfather and her mother as the primary influences on her life.

Dolores also was inspired by her father, whom she saw infrequently until she was an adult, and by his struggles to make a living as a migrant laborer and coal miner. His union activity helped inspire her own activist work with a Hispanic self-help association.

She married in college, divorcing her first husband after having two daughters with him. Later she married Ventura Huerta, with whom she had five children. But they disagreed over many issues including her community involvements, and first separated and then divorced.

 Her mother helped her support her continuing work as an activist after the divorce.

Dolores Huerta became involved in a community group supporting farm workers which merged with the AFL-CIO's Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). Dolores Huerta served as secretary-treasurer of the AWOC.

It was during this time that she met Cesar Chavez, and after they'd worked together for some time, formed with him the National Farm Workers Association, which eventually became the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Dolores Huerta served a key role in the early years of farm worker organizing, though she has only recently been given full credit for this. Among other contributions was her work as the coordinator for East Coast efforts in the table grape boycott, 1968-69, which helped to win recognition for the farm workers' union. It was during this time that she also became connected with the growing feminist movement including connecting with Gloria Steinem, who helped influence her to integrate feminism into her human rights analysis.

In the 1970s Huerta continued her work directing the grape boycott, and expanding to a lettuce boycott and a boycott of Gallo wine. In 1975, the national pressure brought results in California, with the passage of legislation recognizing the right of collective bargaining for farmworkers, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

During this period she had a relationship with Richard Chavez, a brother of Cesar Chavez, and they had four children together. 

She also headed up the farm workers' union's political arm and helped lobby for legislative protections, including maintaining the ALRA.

She helped found a radio station for the union, Radio Campesina, and spoke widely, including lectures and testifying for protections for farm workers.

Dolores Huerta had a total of eleven children. Her work took her away from her children and family frequently, something she expressed regret for later. In 1988, while demonstrating peacefully against the policies of candidate George Bush, she was severely injured when police clubbed the demonstrators. She suffered broken ribs and her spleen had to be removed. She eventually won a considerable financial settlement from the police, as well as changes in police policy on handling demonstrations.

After her recovery from this life-threatening attack, Dolores Huerta returned to working for the farm workers' union.  She's credited with holding the union together after the sudden death of Cesar Chavez in 1993.

Bibliography

  • Susan Ferriss, Ricardo Sandoval, Diana Hembree (editor). The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement. Paperback, 1998.

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