Dolores Huerta

Huerta was born in 1930 in a small mining town in New Mexico—her father was a farmworker and miner who became a state legislator, and her mother was a waitress, cannery worker, and activist with an entrepreneurial and independent spirit that greatly influenced her daughter. In spite of prejudice against Hispanics, young Huerta excelled in school and went on to the University of the Pacific’s Delta College in Stockton, earning a provisional teaching credential. While teaching, she witnessed students attending school hungry and barefoot, and this sparked her lifelong efforts to correct economic injustice.

Huerta’s career as a change-maker began in 1955. She co-founded the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO), which led voter registration drives and fought for economic improvements for Hispanics, and she founded the Agricultural Workers Association. Through CSO, Huerta met activist César Chávez. With their shared interest in organizing farmworkers, they launched the United Farm Workers Union in 1962. Her organizing skills were essential to the growth of UFW—she served as vice president and played a critical role in many of the union’s accomplishments for four decades. Despite ethnic and gender bias, Huerta organized workers, negotiated contracts, advocated for safer working conditions, and fought for unemployment and health care benefits. In but one of many accomplishments, she was the driving force behind the nationwide table-grape boycott in the late 1960s that led to a successful union contract by 1970.

Among countless deserved honors, Huerta received the Puffin/Nation $100,000 Prize for Creative Citizenship in 2002, which she used to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The foundation works to connect groundbreaking community-based organizing to state and national movements to register and educate voters, advocate for education reform, bring about infrastructure improvements in low-income communities, push for greater equality for the LGBTQ+ community, and develop strong leaders. She received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Bill Clinton in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012.

Dolores Huerta shows no sign of stopping. She continues to work tirelessly on many fronts—speaking to students and organizations; advocating for the working poor, women, and children; and traveling the country engaging in campaigns and influencing legislation—all to support equality and defend civil rights.