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Upon reaching one’s 82nd birthday, most people might expect a cake, a few gifts and perhaps a visit from family and friends. On her 82nd birthday, native New Mexican Dolores Huerta learned that she would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of course, Ms. Huerta has never been “most people,” and she as has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers', immigrants', and women’s rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights. As a role model to many in the Latino/Hispanic community, Huerta is the subject of many corridos (ballads) and murals.
Dolores Huerta was born on April 10, 1930 in the small mining town of Dawson in northern New Mexico. She was the second child and only daughter of Juan Fernandez and Alicia Chavez Fernandez. Following the separation of her parents, Dolores, her mother and two brothers moved to Stockton, California.
Dolores attended the University of the Pacific where she earned a teaching degree. She taught elementary school for a short time, however, before long she was involved in her community as a full-time activist, leading voter registration drives and fighting for farm workers. In the late 1950s, Huerta became interested in the conditions of farm workers and met Cesar Chavez, a CSO official. Their attempts to focus the CSO’s attention on the inequities plaguing rural workers failed, and both eventually left that organization. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez together launched one of the greatest movements in the history of Civil Rights in the United States.
By 1962, they had co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, forerunner of the United Farm Workers (UFW), an influential union whose grape boycott in the late 1960s forced grape producers to improve working conditions for migrant farm workers. For more than thirty years Dolores Huerta remained Cesar Chavez’ most loyal and trusted advisor. Together they founded the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan, the Juan De La Cruz Farm Worker Pension Fund, and the Farm Workers Credit Union, the first medical and pension plan and credit union for farm workers. They also formed the National Farm Workers Service Center that provided community-based affordable housing, and the Spanish language radio communications network, KUFW-Radio Campesina, the union’s radio station in California.
On June 5, 1968, Huerta stood beside Robert F. Kennedy on a speaker's platform at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he delivered a victory statement to his political supporters shortly after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. Only moments after the candidate finished his speech, Huerta was a safe distance behind Kennedy as he and five other people were wounded by gunfire inside the hotel's kitchen pantry. Only 15 min before the shooting, Huerta had walked through that pantry alongside the US Senator from New York while Kennedy was on his way to deliver his victory speech. Kennedy died from his gunshot wounds on June 6.
As an advocate for farmworkers' rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times for participating in non-violent civil disobedience activities and strikes. She remains active in progressive causes, and serves on the boards of People for the American Way, Consumer Federation of California, and Feminist Majority Foundation. Six schools in three different states are named for her.
In 2013, Huerta received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
Dolores Huerta Foundation
"Dolores Huerta turns 82 and is awarded one of the nation's highest honors." Kristina Puga NBCLatino.com (4/30/12) Accessed 2/14/2014.
www.makers.com/dolores-huerta Accessed 3/3/2014.
Presidential Medal of Freedom, Department of the Interior, Press Office.