Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta embodies this year’s International Women’s Day theme: “Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives.” She has dedicated her life to improving the lives of farm workers and fighting discrimination against them. She was born in New Mexico, but moved with her mother to California when she was very young. Her mother operated an affordable hotel in Stockton, CA where she welcomed low-wage workers, sometimes even waiving the fee. Her mother encouraged her to embrace the vibrant diversity of the agricultural community where she grew up. She graduated from Stockton College with a teaching degree, but became disenchanted with teaching because of the poor living conditions of her students, many of whom were the children of farm workers. So she left the classroom and began working to improve social and economic conditions for agricultural workers. She was instrumental in getting AFDC and disability insurance for California farm workers in 1963 and in getting the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 passed. She has organized voter registration drives, and lobbied for legislation that improves the economic and working conditions of migrant workers and for Spanish-language voting ballots and driving tests. After starting the Agricultural Workers Association, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez, and the two organizations combined to become the United Farm Workers. She has always advocated for non-violence and for including entire families in the movement. In 1998, she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, and in 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. I was fortunate to meet her when she visited SIU Law and was struck by how warm and generous she was with the students, willing to stay until the last question was answered.

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