Dolores Huerta: A Revolutionary
Women have made great strides toward achieving gender equality in the modern era. Much of the progress has come about from powerful leaders who have contributed to other parts of society as well. Dolores Huerta, for example, is a very significant symbol and advocate for women’s rights progression. In her lifetime she has accomplished many feats such as aiding in the development of farmworker’s rights and improving domestic issues. Due to her work, she is also seen as a feminist in favor of closing the gender gap in America, and is lauded for her participation in various non-violent strikes and protests. Thus, Dolores Huerta made vital strides toward achieving gender equality and promoting farmworkers’ rights in the domestic agenda.
Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta was born on April 10th, 1930, in Dawson, New Mexico. Dawson was a small mining town, therefore Dolores grew up surrounded by hard labor subpar working conditions. Many miners perished after exposure to naturally occurring sulfuric gases in the mines. Interestingly, Dolores’ father was both a miner and a farm worker. However, Dolores did not enjoy the company of both her parents for very long as they divorced when she was only three years old. As a young girl, she was also exposed to various events of racism and discrimination. According to the National Women’s History Museum, “In school, (Dolores) remembers a teacher accusing her of stealing another student’s work because of her ethnicity and giving her an unfair grade.” Events such as these undoubtedly began to form a sense of justice that Dolores would later instill into the farmworker and women’s communities. With her future being shaped by unfair treatment towards minorities, Dolores proceeded to attempt to break the cycle of indifference toward minorities by becoming a teacher and educating children. She believed that helping cultivate strong minds would aid in producing future leaders. Unfortunately, she soon discovered that the education system was also discriminatory toward minorities and thus decided to leave her teaching profession. Dolores said, “I quit because I couldn’t stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.” Therefore, Dolores set out to do just that.
Dolores’ actions for farmworkers were invaluable. Farmworkers tended to perpetually migrate because different crops had different ripening seasons. This forced farmers to often move in order to follow crop patterns, which was a heavy burden for many. Dolores experienced migration firsthand when her family moved to Stockton, California when she was only three years old. According to Alex Von Tol, author of Dolores Huerta: Voice for the Working Poor, “Kids of farmworkers never stayed long enough in one place to form lasting friendships.” Because she moved around a lot, Dolores was forced to often miss school and also help out her family in the fields at times. Consequently, Dolores began to see many unjust actions toward farmworkers. For example, “Workers were exposed to poisonous pesticides everyday. They were not offered masks. They weren’t given suits to stay safe from the toxic fumes, either. In the 1950s, health insurance didn’t exist for farmworkers” (Van Tol, 9). Dolores’ initial step to improve farmworkers’ lives was helping develop the Stockton Community Service Organization in 1955, or CSO for short. The CSO accomplished many feats, one of which was furthering workers’ voting rights. “Dolores and her fellow CSO workers helped people register to vote who wouldn’t have been able to do it themselves” (Van Tol, 28). Her work eventually led to the development of the NFWA, or National Farmworkers’ Association, with the collaboration of Cesar Chavez. Together, they ended the Bracero program which was a program instituted by the United States in an effort to gain temporary migrant farmworkers from Mexico. Although the program was portrayed as a positive element for workers, often the people in the program were heavily discriminated against and treated very poorly, with low wages earned as a result of excruciating work. Dolores’ accomplishments for workers also inspired her to make changes in the domestic agenda regarding women.
In addition to aiding farmer workers, Dolores Huerta also largely supported the development of women’s rights. Growing up, Dolores didn’t experience any domestic sexual discrimination, and felt that both men and women were equal. The lack of presence of inferiority and a mindset focused on superiority allowed Dolores to express herself as a powerful and independent woman. As stated in Richard A. Garcia, author Dolores Huerta: Woman, Organizer, and Symbol, “Many women would disapprove of Dolores, because of her aggressive nature, the way she would constantly neglect her children, and how her actions would constantly cause dissension between her and the men.” Through her activism and lifestyle, Dolores Huerta challenged and redefined what it meant to be a typical Mexican American woman facing consistent discrimination. Furthermore, Garcia also mentions how Dolores has, “broken free from the Mexican male’s ideology that both a women’s independence and sexuality are wrong to express.” Dolores focused much less on these gender differences, and instead had belief in self-confidence, a strong sense of independence, and the idea that hard work would eventually lead to success. Dolores’ activism and well-established ethics had a large influence on how Mexican-American women perceived themselves, and ultimately infused these women with a more eclectic mindset.
Interestingly, Dolores Huerta has lived long enough to see her changes take effect and continues to live today. Her groundbreaking work stands as a rare symbol of feminine power used for the betterment of society. Her contributions toward farmworkers and humanity as a whole are invaluable, and she has proven very clearly that being a minority woman in society should have no detrimental effects on one’s ability to do what is right in the face of incredible injustice. Dolores Huerta is easily one of the greatest activists to exist, as proven by her unbridled sense of determination.
Garcia, Richard A. “Dolores Huerta: Woman, Organizer and Symbol.” California History. 1st ed. Vol. 72. N.p.: U of California, 1993. 56-71. Print. Women in California History.
“National Women’s History Museum.” Education & Resources. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2015.
Tol, Alex Van. Dolores Huerta: Voice for the Working Poor. St. Catharines, Ontario: Crabtree Pub., 2011. Print.