Civil rights legend recognized for years of service
Dolores Huerta receives Humanitarian of the Year Award from Harvard Foundation
February 12, 2009
By Gervis A. Menzies Jr.
Harvard News Office
At times, the best way to truly honor those who have selflessly and
tirelessly served is with a simple "thank you." This past Monday
(Feb. 9), the Harvard Foundation thanked civil rights legend Dolores
Huerta for her years of service as a labor organizer and activist by
presenting her with the 2008 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian of the Year
Award in front of a captivated audience at Quincy House. A co-founder
of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), Huerta is regarded as
one of the most powerful and influential labor movement leaders of our time.
The annual ceremony, in which the students and faculty of the Harvard
Foundation honor a widely recognized philanthropist and/or
humanitarian with the award, this year featured a tribute performance
by Mariachi Véritas de Harvard, remarks by leaders of cultural groups
on campus, and words by Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter.
Huerta, a native of California and the daughter of a farmworker and
union organizer, has fought for years to protect the labor rights of
farmworkers, co-founding UFW in 1962 with late civil rights activist
César Chávez. Huerta has not only been imprisoned for fighting for
workers' rights, but at the age of 58 she was also severely beaten
for leading a peaceful and lawful protest against the policies of
then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, who had derided the UFW
and its grape boycott.
Upon receiving the award, the humble Huerta was gracious; however,
she did not hesitate to redirect the event's focus by forcefully
reminding the audience of mostly students of their civil obligation
as U.S. citizens.
"The idea of America is not a place," Huerta said. "It's an idea of
freedom; it's an idea of liberty. It means that each of us [has] to
be patrons in our society. ... We've got to be prepared to fight,
which means we've got to be prepared to march, demonstrate and yes,
go to jail once in a while. Like Dr. King did. Like César did. Like I
did. Like Gandhi did. Like Mandela did. We've got to be able to take
that other step.
"The end of your education has got to be in service to others. ...
The end of our education should never be just to make money," she
said. "The most important thing is to serve and give back to our communities."
Yes, She Did!
Published On Wednesday, February 11, 2009
By MIGUEL GARCIA, ELIANA C. MURILLO, and RAÚL A. CARRILLO
On Monday afternoon in Quincy House, a large audience of Harvard
students and faculty was spellbound by a five-foot-tall, 79-year-old
mother of 11 children. Dolores Huerta, president of the Dolores
Huerta Foundation and co-founder of the United Farm Workers of
Americaalthough delicate in appearanceexudes the calm passion and
power that distinguishes leaders of her incredible historical
stature. The daughter of a waitress and a coal miner, Señora Huerta's
lifelong fight for social justice is, as David G. Hernandez '09 puts
it, a "testament to the power each one of us possesses to make a
positive difference." Her acceptance of the Reverend Professor Peter
J. Gomes Humanitarian of the Year Award, given by the Harvard
Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, is a fitting
celebration of increased opportunity for Chicanos, Latinos, women,
and workers. It also commends the struggle for equal rights and a
better life for all, the struggle for the American dream.
The Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the students and
faculty of the Harvard Foundation to individuals who have
exceptionally contributed to the humanitarian cause and whose works
exemplify the mission of the foundation. No one fits that description
better than Dolores Huerta. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and
Mahatma Gandhi, Dolores Huerta and César Chávez mobilized a massive
nonviolent movement that empowered impoverished, abused, and
disenfranchised people to fight against injustice.
Huerta was instrumental in organizing the migrant farm workers of
California's fields and co-founded the UFW in 1962. Later that year
she pushed for legislation repealing the inhumane Bracero Program,
which legally exploited the labor of Mexican nationals. In 1965, she
directed the UFW's national grape boycott, which communicated the
worker's suffering to the consumers in order to end subhuman wages,
worker abuses, poor living conditions, and the use of toxic
pesticides, among other atrocities. Her efforts culminated in a
three-year collective bargaining between the UFW and the entire
California grape industry in 1970, a monumental and unprecedented triumph.
Since then, Huerta has not ceased to selflessly serve the
disadvantaged of America and the wider world. As she spoke at the
podium on Monday, clad in purple, a customary symbol of the grape
boycott, one could not help but admire her rare yet perfect
combination of joyful charisma, fearlessness, and selflessness. She
has been arrested 22 times for participating in non-violent civil
disobedience strikes, but she still wears a smile that shines with
hope, promise, and opportunity.
Opportunity is exactly what she has given to both migrant and
nonmigrant Latinos in the United States. The families and communities
of many Latinos at Harvard have been directly affected by the work of
Dolores Huerta. At Harvard, we call it a Latino community. At home we
may call it something different, but no matter what it is called
Dolores Huerta has always represented a community of hardworking
people. In her ongoing fight to improve living conditions and
treatment for laborers, Huerta represents the family who spent days
in the fields under the scorching sun with no place to use the
restroom or drink clean water. She represents the mother who labored
tirelessly to send her children to school and the child who saw the
pain and suffering of the family. She represents the generations who
fought hard so that one day their children and children's children
could be in a better position to help the world in their own right.
Her contribution to equal opportunity for women and Latinas in
particular deserves special recognition. Huerta enacted social change
at a time when female labor leaders were not treated with equality or
even respect. Her work with the UFW and more recently as a board
member of the Feminist Majority Foundation has empowered women of
color across the country. She has improved the lives of thousands of
women who may never have the chance to meet heras many Harvard
Latinas did on Mondaybut who owe her an insurmountable debt, a debt
that should be paid by a continued commitment to social justice and
In her speech on Monday, Huerta echoed the importance of continuing
"La Causa": our work is not yet done. Workers are still being
mistreated and underpaid, and the voices of minorities and women are
still being marginalized. Fittingly, she ended her speech with two
rallying cries for solidarity. The first was a Zulu cry, "Wozani!"
("People together!"), often used in the struggle to end apartheid in
South Africa. The second was the traditional UFW chant: "¡Sí Se
Puede!" This cry was eventually translated into "Yes, We Can!", the
slogan of President Obama's 2008 campaign.
There is, indeed, much work left to be done. Thankfully, we all have
a model, a lucerito to follow, in the celebrated person of Dolores Huerta.
Raúl A. Carrillo '10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies
concentrator in Lowell House. He is president of the Harvard College
Latino Men's Collective. Miguel Garcia '12 lives in Greenough Hall.
He is an intern for the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race
Relations. Eliana C. Murillo '10 is a sociology concentrator in
Winthrop House. She is president of Latinas Unidas de Harvard.