CLCV is thrilled to honor Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta, a renowned labor leader and civil rights activist, at our annual Environmental Leadership Awards on June 9th.
Huerta is co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).
At 86, Dolores Huerta continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women, and children. As founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF), she travels across the country engaging in campaigns, influencing legislation that supports equality and defends civil rights, and speaking to students and organizations about social justice and public policy.
Health and the environment are intrinsically linked, and the grassroots groups that work with DHF have identified these issues as among their top priorities. DHF works to create healthy environments where people can live, work, and play by training community residents to advocate for parks, public transportation, infrastructure improvements, the reduction of pesticide use, increased recreational opportunities, and culturally relevant services. DHF partners with environmental organizations and agencies to educate residents on environmental hazards and safe green alternatives.
Since 2009, DHF has been an active member of the South Kern Building Healthy Communities initiative. Vecinos Unidos (“United Neighbors,” a DHF program) and the DHF Youth Leadership Group organize neighborhood cleanups. Dolores is also a leading voice in California advocating for the state’s landmark plastic bag ban, which will face a referendum on the November 2016 ballot.
Her lifelong journey of working to correct economic injustice began when she was a teacher and could not bear to see her students come to school with empty stomachs and bare feet. While serving in the leadership of the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO), Dolores founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives, and pressed local governments for barrio improvements.
In 1962, Dolores Huerta and César E. Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association. Her accomplishments there included securing Aid For Dependent Families and disability insurance for farm workers in the California in 1963. She was also instrumental in the enactment of California’s landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which established farm workers’ right to collective bargaining. Huerta explained recently that the farmworkers’ movement was not only about civil rights, but also about environmental justice and “maintaining the vital link between humans and nature”:
For us Latinos, our ties to nature, to the Divine Creation, are summed up in the phrase amor por el terruño—love for the land. We feel a spiritual connection to the land that gives us life and nurtures us, and we reject the notion that this is a disposable planet. The Earth is not ours to abuse and poison—not the land itself, and not the people living and working on it. César and I witnessed firsthand the silent, tragic poisoning, by tons upon tons of pesticides and fertilizers, of not only those who toiled in the fields but also their families waiting at home. Together, through peaceful resistance, we managed to either ban or restrict the use on food crops of some of the most lethal chemicals ever created: DDT, aldrin, parathion, and captan.
In 2012, President Obama bestowed Dolores with The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Writing about President Obama’s designation of new National Monuments including the César E. Chávez National Monument, Huerta said:
Our history is remembered at these treasured sites, but they are much more than museums or memorials. For many diverse communities who have limited access to parks and open space, they are much-needed places where people can get outdoors to experience nature and spend time with family and friends. At the ceremony designating the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument, President Obama said he is looking for more communities across our country to speak up and ask him to protect public lands.
To this I say, Si, se puede—Yes, we can! I add my voice to those who call for protecting America’s wild places and honoring our country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. We want places for our kids to breathe fresh air and play in the great outdoors. We want our children and grandchildren to inherit a better and healthier world. And it is this hope for our children and grandchildren that is at the heart of amor por el terruño, our love for the land.
We look forward to honoring Huerta for her remarkable achievements on June 9th in San Francisco.