DOLORES HUERTA Biography - Activists, Revolutionaries and other freedom fighters


Biography » activists revolutionaries and other freedom fighters » dolores huerta


Dolores was born Dolores Clara Fernandez on April 10, 1930 in   
the mining town of Dawson, in northern New Mexico.  Her         
father, Juan Fernandez, was a seasonal farm worker, miner,       
union activist and later a State Assemblyman.  Her parents     
divorced when she was three years old and her mother, Alicia     
Chavez, relocated Dolores and her two brothers to Stockton,     
California in the predominantly agricultural San Joaquin         
Valley.  Alicia raised Dolores, along with her two brothers,     
and later two sisters.  Her mother worked as a cook in two       
restaurants to support her family during the Great Depression.   
Through prudence she became a businesswoman when she           
purchased two hotel businesses and a restaurant. While her       
mother worked feverishly to support the family, Dolores and     
her siblings were cared for by her grandfather, Herculano       
Chavez.  He was a miner who became disabled in a mining         
accident in New Mexico in which he lost one of his sons,         
Marcial Chavez at age seventeen.  In helping to raise           
Dolores, Herculano would often say that Dolores had seven       
tongues because she spoke so fast.                               
Dolores and her siblings were raised in one of the two hotels,   
the 60-room Richard’s Hotel, that her mother purchased from a   
Japanese family that was being relocated to a concentration     
camp.  Her mother often put up farm workers and their families   
for free in the hotels.  Dolores and her siblings worked in     
the daily cleaning and renting of the rooms at the Richard’s     
Hotel.  Her mother taught Dolores the importance of community   
activism and supported Dolores, and her Girl Scout troop.       
Dolores remained a girl scout until age 18 when she graduated   
from Stockton High School in 1947.  As a girl scout, Dolores’   
troop took on many community endeavors including fundraising     
activities to support the USO during World War II.  Dolores’     
troop was quite unique for its time in that it was truly         
representative of the international community of Stockton.  It   
was made up of girls from diverse ethnical backgrounds           
including African-American, Chinese, Filipino, Latino and       
Anglo at a time when racism was prevalent.  In fact it was as   
a teen-ager in high school when Dolores first experienced       
racism.  An annual national Girl Scout essay contest was held   
and Dolores was one of two girls who won, she placed second     
throughout the nation.  The second place prize was a trip to     
the Hopi Indian Reservation in Gallup, New Mexico.  When         
Dolores sought to seek the time off from school to go on this   
trip she was granted permission from all of her teachers but     
denied the time off from school by the Dean of Girls.  Dolores   
felt that this was because she was the first Latina to win       
this annual contest and many Anglo girls had previously been     
given the time off from school for winning the very same         
award.  Dolores also experienced more institutional racism       
when, in that same senior year of high school she was given a   
final grade of a “C” in English after receiving numerous “A’s   
on term papers, reports and essays.  When she approached the     
teacher in regard to her final grade, the teacher told her she   
gave her the “C” because she “knew” that the essays and         
reports were written by someone else because Dolores could not   
have written them herself.                                       
The day World War II ended, festivities were held throughout     
the town celebrating “VJ” (Victory over the Japanese).  Her     
brother Marshall dressed up in a Zoot-suit to go out and         
celebrate.  Dolores was going to meet up with him at a dance     
later in the evening.  As Dolores and her friend were walking   
to the dance they came upon a person huddled on the ground of   
a door stoop.  He was badly beaten with his clothes ripped to   
shreds.  The beating and ripped clothing was a result of         
racism against young Latinos, and their way of dress in the     
40’s.    When Dolores stopped to help the young man up, it       
turned out to be her brother Marshall, who for the first time   
had dressed in a Zoot-suit.                                     
Alicia Chavez also instilled the love of the arts in her         
children.  She purchased season tickets for her children to     
the symphony and theatre to see live music performances of       
renowned artists, although she herself could not attend         
because she had to work.  Alicia enrolled Dolores in piano,     
violin, and dance lessons.  Dolores wanted to become a           
flamenco dancer when she grew up.  As a teenager, Dolores was   
a majorette and participated in many parades throughout the     
region along with her future sister-in-law, Rae Atilano.         
Alicia Chavez taught Dolores how to be generous and caring for   
others.  Because of her mother’s community activism, Dolores     
learned to be outspoken.  After high school, Dolores attended   
college and received a teaching certificate.  She was the       
first of her family to receive a higher education.  She taught   
grammar school but decided to resign from teaching because,     
in her words, “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children     
come to class hungry and in need of shoes.  I thought I could   
do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach     
their hungry children.”                                         
In 1955, she became founding members of the Stockton Chapter     
of the Community Service Organization (“CSO”), a grass roots     
organization started by Fred Ross. Her mother later joined the   
organization as well and received an award for her community     
In recognizing the needs of farm workers while working for the   
CSO, Dolores organized and founded the Agricultural Workers     
Association (“AWA”) in 1960.  She became a fearless lobbyist     
in Sacramento, at the age of twenty-five (25), a time where     
few women, not to mention women of color, dared to enter the     
State Capital and National Capital to lobby legislators.  Her   
efforts paid off in 1961 when she succeeded in obtaining the     
removal of citizenship requirements from pension and public     
assistance programs for legal residents of the United States     
and California State disability insurance for farm workers.     
She was also instrumental in passage of legislation allowing     
the right to vote in Spanish, and the right of individuals to   
take the drivers license examination in their native language.   
In 1962 she lobbied in Washington D.C. for an end to the       
“captive labor” Bracero Program.  In 1963 she was instrumental   
in securing Aid for Dependent Families (“AFDC”), for the         
unemployed and underemployed,                                   
It was through her work with Fred Ross and the CSO that         
Dolores met Cesar Chavez.  It was Fred who recruited and         
organized both Dolores and Cesar and trained them in community   
organizing.  The CSO battled segregation, police brutality,     
led voter registration drives, pushed for improved public       
services in Latino communities throughout the State of           
California and fought to enact new legislation.  The CSO         
played a leading role in electing the first Latino in over one   
hundred years, Ed Roybal, to the Los Angeles City Council.       
While working with the CSO, both Cesar and Dolores realized     
the immediate need to organize farm workers because of their     
dire conditions.  In 1962 after the CSO turned down Cesar’s     
request, as their nation director, to organize farm workers,     
Cesar and Dolores resigned from their jobs with CSO in order     
to do so.  At that time she was a divorced mother with seven     
children.  She later joined Cesar and his family in Delano,     
California where they began the National Farm Workers           
Association (“NFWA”), the predecessor to the United Farm         
Workers Union (“UFW”).                                           
By 1965 Dolores and Cesar organized farm workers and their       
families throughout the San Joaquin Valley utilizing the         
organizing techniques taught them by Fred Ross.  On September   
8th of that year, Filipino members of the Agricultural Workers   
Organizing Committee (the successor of the “AWA” the same       
organization founded by Dolores) demanded higher wages and       
struck Delano area grape growers.  Although Dolores and Cesar   
had planned to organize farm workers for several more years     
before confronting the large corporate grape industry, they     
could not ignore their Filipino brothers’ request.  On           
September 16, 1965 the NFWA voted to join in the strike.  Over   
5,000 grape workers walked off their jobs.  The strike would   
last five years.                                                 
In 1966, Dolores negotiated the first NFWA contract with the     
Schenley Wine Company.  This was the first time in the history   
of the United States that a negotiating committee comprised of   
farm workers and a young Latina single mother of seven,         
negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with an             
agricultural corporation.  The grape strike continued and the   
two organizations (“AWA” and “NFWA”) merged in 1967 to form     
the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (“UFWOC”).  As     
the main UFWOC negotiator, Dolores successfully negotiated       
more contracts for farm workers, she also set up hiring halls,   
the farm workers ranch committees, administrated the contracts   
and conducted over one hundred grievance and arbitration         
procedures on behalf of the workers.                             
These contracts established the first medical and pension       
benefits for farm workers and safety plans in the history of     
agriculture.  Dolores spoke out early against toxic pesticides   
that threaten farm workers, consumers, and the environment.     
The early UFWOC agreements required growers to stop using such   
dangerous pesticides as DDT and Parathyon.  Dolores organized   
field strikes, directed the grape, lettuce and Gallo Wine       
boycotts, and led the farm workers in campaigns for political   
candidates.  As a legislative advocate, Dolores became one of   
the UFW’s most visible spokespersons.  Robert F. Kennedy         
acknowledged her, the farm workers, and Cesar’s help in         
winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential Primary     
moments before he was assassinated in Los Angeles.               
Dolores directed the UFW’s national grape boycott that           
resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing   
a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the United     
Farm Workers.                                                   
In 1973 the grape contracts expired and the grape growers       
signed sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters Union.  Dolores   
organized picket lines and continued to lobby.    The UFW       
continued to organize not only the grape workers but the         
workers in the vegetable industry as well until violence         
erupted and farm workers were being killed.  Once again the     
UFW turned to the consumer boycott.  Dolores directed the east   
coast boycott of grapes, lettuce, and Gallo wines.  The         
boycott resulted in the enactment of the California             
Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law of its   
kind that  grants farm workers the right to collectively         
organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions.   
In 1974 she was instrumental in securing unemployment benefits   
for farm workers.  In 1985 Dolores lobbied against federal       
guest worker programs and spearheaded legislation granting       
amnesty for farm workers that had lived, worked, and paid       
taxes in the United States for many years but unable to enjoy   
the privileges of citizenship.  This resulted in the             
Immigration Act of 1985 in which 1,400,000 farm workers         
received amnesty.                                               
            Dolores worked with Cesar for over thirty years     
until his death in 1993. Together they founded the Robert       
Kennedy Medical Plan, the Juan De La Cruz Farm Workers Pension   
Fund, the Farm Workers Credit Union, the first medical and       
pension plans and credit union in history for farm workers.     
They also formed the National Farm Workers Service Center       
(visit which today provides affordable housing   
with over 3,700 rental and 600 single family dwelling units,     
and educational radio with over nine Spanish Speaking Radio     
Stations throughout California, Washington and Arizona.         
In 2002 Dolores was the second recipient of the Puffin           
Foundation/Nation Institute Award for Creative Citizenship       
(visit that included a $100,000 grant   
which she utilized to establish her long time dream, the         
Dolores Huerta Foundation’s Organizing Institute.               
The Foundation’s mission is to focus on community organizing     
and leadership training in low-income under-represented         
At age seventy-five (75), Dolores Huerta still works long       
hours serving as President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation     
leading the development of the organization and the Organizing   
Institute as well as the community organizing.  It is not       
unusual to find her traveling regularly to cities across North   
America educating the public on public policy issues affecting   
immigrants, women, and youth.  She speaks at colleges and       
organizations throughout the country in support of “La Causa”.   
Dolores is a board member for the Feminist Majority Foundation   
(visit that advocates for gender balance.     
She is also teaching a class on community organizing at the     
University of Southern California.                               
Dolores C. Huerta is also Secretary-Treasure Emeritus of the     
United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW).  She is the       
mother of 11 children, 20 grandchildren and five                 
            As an advocate for immigrant workers rights,         
Dolores has been arrested twenty-two times for non-violent       
peaceful union activities.  In 1984 the California state         
senate bestowed upon her the Outstanding Labor Leader Award.     
In 1993 Dolores was inducted into the Nation Women’s Hall of     
Fame.  That same year she received the American Civil           
Liberties Union (ACLU) Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award;     
the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, and   
the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award. She is also the         
recipient of the Consumers’ Union Trumpeter’s Award.  In 1998   
she was one of the three Ms. Magazine’s “Women of the Year”,     
and the Ladies Home Journal’s “100 Most Important Women of the   
20th Century”. In 1998 Dolores received the United States       
Presidential Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award from       
President Clinton.  On December 8, 2002 she received the         
Nation/Puffin Award for Creative Citizenship.  In 2003 she       
received a short term appointment as a University of             
California Regent.