The 1960s saw unprecedented levels of discrimination and injustice, yet societies relied on prominent social justice activists to spread messages of peace and to advocate for equal rights among all people.
Dolores Huerta was one such activist whose work in mobilizing civilians paved the way for immigrant and laborer’s rights, and also led to her co-founding the National Farm Workers Association, presently known as United Farm Workers, alongside Cesar Chavez.
Huerta’s work as an activist has also been honored by two United States presidents: She was awarded the Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Clinton and the Medal of Freedom Award, which is the highest civilian award in the United States, from President Obama.
On Oct. 23, Cal Poly Pomona’s Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department collaborated with the Kellogg Distinguished Public Lecture Series to welcome Huerta as fall quarter’s guest speaker.
Huerta shared her stories of advocacy, reminding the 1,500 attendees from the campus community and beyond that even a single voice has the power to make a significant difference.
“You have to have faith in yourself,” she said. “It may not happen today or tomorrow, but you must keep the work going.”
Huerta quoted her late, fellow civil rights activist, Chavez, stating that “the only time you lose is when you quit.”
Her experience includes over 60 years of community organizing, something she believes the civil society should continually place an emphasis on.
“If something does not happen the way that you wanted it to, it is because there was more organizing that needed to be done,” said Huerta.
Huerta also spoke passionately of the imminent midterm elections and urged the youth to take advantage of their opportunities to influence policy.
“I believe so much in the power of the people,” she said. “When we come together, we can make the great changes that need to be made.”
Nonetheless, Huerta acknowledged that many young people do not make it to the ballots simply out of a lack of awareness.
“Ignorance is one of the biggest problems that we have in society right now,” she said.
Huerta suggested a visibility event, such as a march through the campus featuring drums and bugles, as a way to shed light on the importance of the Nov. 4 elections.
During her lecture, Huerta also gave further wind to our society’s age-old demand for quality education.
According to Huerta, education is the number one civil rights issue in today’s contemporary society. She explained that achieving an educated citizenry would eliminate the potential of mob rule and also assist in combating forms of discrimination.
“We must put into kindergarten through twelfth grade ethnic studies, labor studies and women’s studies,” said Huerta. “The way to get rid of racism in society and to move away [from] ideas of supremacy is to teach everybody [of] the contributions people of color [have made] to this country.”
Statements like these were well received, as the crowd nodded their heads in agreement and roared in a zealous applause.
Audience member Alan Jimenez, whose interest in Huerta’s work brought him from Azusa Pacific University, explained why the distinguished speaker’s comments resonate with him.
“As a Mexican-American, I feel as though I can relate to a lot of what [Huerta] speaks [about],” said Jimenez, a fourth-year business student. “I was curious to see how she overcame adversity during her career, so that I can make sure that [society] actually does move forward and we don’t get stuck in the 60s.”
Amanda Riggle, a third-year transfer English education student, waited in the queue line with friends hours before the lecture to guarantee themselves seats.
“Social justice is something that I am very interested in,” she said. “I know that [Huerta] is a revolutionary, so I was really interested in hearing about her story, how she got into [activism] and why she does what she does, because not a lot of people have done what she has done.”
The lecture concluded with a question-and-answers segment during which Huerta replied to inquiries from audience members.
She responded to questions about her motivation, accomplishments and advice; however, when asked about her energy and perseverance, her counsel was simple.
“Dance a lot,” she said with a smile.
Photos Courtesy Chris Maciosek, The Poly Post