'We're Gonna Win': Civil Rights Hero Dolores Huerta on Fighting for DACA

"The one thing I learned in the movement for justice is that you never quit and you never go back."

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Sep 12 2017, 3:47pm

Photo by Annie Wells via Getty Images

At 87 years old and standing just five feet tall, Dolores Huerta may look like your average abuelita. But, as most people who have met her or watched her speak at any number of marches, protests, or gatherings can attest, Dolores is no ordinary abuelita.

A mother of eleven and 2012 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Huerta has been fighting for the rights of Latinos since the 60s. Alongside civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, she led a worldwide grape strike and boycott and brought Mexican and Filipino workers together to form the first farm workers union, United Farm Workers. A former schoolteacher with no negotiation experience, Huerta forced growers to sit down with her and negotiate the nation's first farm worker contracts. Her famous rallying cry, "Si se puede!" (yes we can!) was used by former President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008, and when he apologized for 'stealing' it, he was "pleased that she let me off easy, because Dolores does not play."

So how could a woman respected by a President and feared by the Texas State Board of Education (which voted to keep Huerta's name out of state history books as recently as 2010) be relatively unknown? For Peter Bratt, writer, producer, and director of the documentary Dolores, the reason is simple: because she's a woman.

Huerta at a press conference in 1975. Photo courtesy of PBS Distribution

Broadly sat down with the civil rights icon to discuss Bratt's documentary and issues facing the United States today. This interview has been edited and condensed.

BROADLY: At the beginning of your career, you said you didn't identify as a feminist. However, after meeting Gloria Steinem and learning about the women's rights movement, you did start to identify as one. Lately, there's been a lot of talk about how feminism has often left out women of color. Do you think that is still ongoing? If so, what do you think feminists should do to be more inclusive?
DOLORES HUERTA: One of the issues, I think, that separates women of color from the feminist movement, is the issue of abortion. Personally, I had to wrestle with that issue myself. But then, understanding that it's not about race, that it's about a woman's body, it's about women being able to control her own body and her own life. I think, we, as women of color, understand that we can be and should be feminists. We've got to cross that bridge, like I did. When I talk to people, I say to them, "What did Benito Juárez say? 'El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.' Respect in other people's rights is peace."

Read more: Hundreds of Protesters March on Trump Tower in Support of DACA

There's a wonderful scene in the film where Coretta Scott King was seen walking alongside you. There seems to be a lack of cohesion between a lot of movements that are going on right now in the United States, what do you think needs to happen in order for us to come together?
We have to support each other's movements. I know each movement is being attacked separately, and they (Republicans) do that very specifically. They want us to get freaked out, and think, "We're being attacked, I gotta fight for my own group." But we have an obligation to do that, to the extent that we can. Whether it's just sending an email, writing a letter, going to a march, going to a demonstration, giving public support, visible support by endorsements or proclamations. We have to.

I really get concerned about the strategy of division, and I really am worried about DACA, and I'll tell you why. When Trump said, "I'm going to turn it over to the Congress." What's the strategy there? And then you think, "Okay, what's happening in Congress?" They want to get money to build a wall, right? They're trying to do other things in terms of tax reform to take away entitlements from the poor people. So, I feel like, they might want to use DACA as [a] bargaining chip, because there's such huge support in the public for it. When you have 80 percent of the American public supporting DACA, so what is their strategy? We have to be aware.

You've had a lot of successes throughout the years, but you've also had your share of lows and setbacks. Is there a message that you want to send to the Dreamers?
The one thing I learned in the movement for justice is that you never quit and you never go back. Things happen sometimes, and we don't know why. Like, when we look back, and we say, "Why was this guy elected President of the United States?" Maybe it's because we had to come to terms with the racism in this country. We've never done that and now we know that it's going to bring our country down. It's going to affect the whole world if we don't take care of it here. Now that it's facing us, and we see all these things that he's doing: attacking people of color, transgender people, women's reproductive rights, and now DACA.

So, number one, let's thank [Dreamers] for their heroic courage that they had to have over the years, even when they fought for DACA in the first place, and the leadership that they're showing now. The main thing is that they have to keep on, they can not quit, they can't get despaired, they can't get cynical. We've gotta fight. This is it, and you know what? We're gonna win. I just feel in my heart.

Huerta at the Delano Strike in 1966. Photo courtesy of PBS Distribution

This documentary was really enlightening, because in school, you don't really learn about women in history, even less so, the women of color. You've been one of the biggest civil rights activists for over five decades! How does it feel to have this documentary bring you recognition?
I don't think it's so much about recognition. I see the documentary as a call to action for people. When they see the documentary, I hope that they see that if farm workers could do that, then I could do that also. That they see the need for organizing and activism and for engagement. That's what I hope they see.

The only thing that I have to say, as a woman, is that we know that women are often left behind. Like Hillary Clinton. Regardless of all of her accomplishments, she didn't take the presidency because the machismo in this world is still alive and well. The misogyny along with the racism and the homophobia and the bigotry against poor people, they're still alive and well. In that respect, I hope that a lot of women get inspired, so that we can take it on and make this world a real democracy. Everybody's story matters. One thing that we've been saying to people that are discouraged is: "You can cut all the flowers, but you can't hold back the spring," by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. We have to think of ourselves as if we are that spring. We're going out there and, by working and voting, we are sowing the seeds of justice. Yes, the spring will come, and we are that spring. We are that spring.