Dolores Huerta Honored
By Jim Forbes, Publisher
LOS ANGELES – Dolores Huerta, a life-long champion of farmworkers and women in California and far beyond, was bestowed the 2023 John Anson Ford Human Relations Award in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The 93-year-old Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union alongside Cesar Chavez and founder of The Dolores Huerta Foundation, received the Yvonne B. Burke Courage Award, which honors an individual for their “bold, dauntless action to advance human relations.”
“Dolores is an inspiration that transcends generation after generation,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement following the event.
President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of Labor added, “She has dedicated her life to advancing the rights of farmworkers, women, and other marginalized communities. Never did I imagine as a young girl growing up in the San Gabriel Valley that I would get to meet her, let alone partner with her in uplifting our most vulnerable. So, today we come full circle.”
Two of Huerta’s seven daughters, Juanita Chavez and Maria Elena Chavez, also daughters of Cesar Chavez, accepted on their mother’s behalf.
“I am honored to receive this award from the LA County Human Relations Commission,” said Dolores Huerta in a provided statement. “So much of my life’s work aligns with the historical work of the Commission, beginning with the Community Service Organization, which started in Los Angeles – founded by Ed Roybal to fight discrimination against Latinos, which resulted in the passage of significant legislation: Public Assistance for Legal Immigrants; which included Old Age Pensions, Aid to the Disabled including Blind and later, Aid to Needy Children, removing deputy registrars as a requirement for voter registration, voting in Spanish, and driver’s license exams in Spanish. The Human Relations Commission gives legal support for the racial equity work with tangible results needed for our American society today as we set the model for the rest of the world,”
Born in New Mexico and raised in the California central valley farming community of Stockton, Huerta began her community activism in that city as a 25-year-old in 1955.
According to her biography published in the National Women’s History Museum, she “co-founded the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO), which led voter registration drives and fought for economic improvements for Hispanics.”
Her early work caused Huerta to meet Cesar Chavez, and fueled by their mutual interests in organizing farmworkers, they first formed the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962, and then the United Farm Workers (UFW) three years later.
Their organizing efforts led to 5,000 grape workers going on strike in Delano, evolving into international attention with the call for a boycott of table grapes. With the planting of those roots, organizing efforts spread as does a grapevine, eventually bearing fruit with the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which tilled the soil for farmworkers to organize and bargain for improved working conditions and pay.
When Chavez embarked on a 25-day fast in the early ’70s in Phoenix, Huerta adopted the phrase, “Sí se puede,” translated as “Yes, it is possible.” Roughly translated to mean, “Yes we can.”
It has been reported that then-President Barack Obama once acknowledged to Huerta, that he “stole” her slogan for his campaign, to which she replied, “Yes you did.”
Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Fourteen years earlier, she had been awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Other presidential contacts were far from sanguine.
In 1968, she was on stage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Sen. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Twenty years later, in 1988, while peacefully protesting the policies of then-Vice President and Presidential candidate, George H. W. Bush, the 58-year-old Huerta was severely beaten with a San Francisco police officer’s baton, which broke ribs and caused her spleen to be surgically removed.
Once recovered, she focused increasingly on women’s issues and electing them to public office.
Named after John Anson Ford, a longtime human relations leader, the JAF Human Relations Awards have identified and honored human relations champions throughout Los Angeles County.
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