On Feb. 2, hundreds of people gathered at Littlefield Concert Hall to watch DOLORES, a documentary which focuses on the life of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. When news of available seats in the concert hall reached the Student Union, the attendants who were to watch the film from a live-stream rushed across campus, some breaking into a sprint.
The late arrivals quickly found themselves empty seats just as Congresswoman Barbara Lee approached the podium to introduce Huerta. After illustrating Huerta’s work as a tireless fighter for women’s rights, communities of color and poor communities, Lee said, “She gets intersectionality more than most.”
Huerta’s entrance on stage was met with resounding applause and chants of “Sí, se puede!” a phrase which she invented that was adopted as the slogan of the United Farm Workers that roughly translates to “Yes, we can.” She thanked her children and those who supported her activism and introduced her daughter Camila Chávez, a Mills alum and executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
DOLORES began with a storm of news clips, interviews and footage — all of which seem to speak the same message: Dolores Huerta is probably the most influential activist you never knew. The audience bore witness to Huerta’s upbringing in California during the 1950s, her active role in establishing the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization and her co-founding of the UFW with César Chávez.
The film documented the evolution of Huerta’s activism, from countless door-to-door visits of farmworkers’ homes to the incorporation of feminism into her advocacy for people of color. Her sacrifices in safety, security and family were captured on screen. At the end, DOLORES returned to the questions raised by the beginning of the film — questions of who Dolores Huerta is, what she has done and why the general public is unaware of her.
As the audience watched Huerta start to reclaim the legacy which was stolen from her, the struggle to be remembered as her efforts were often attributed to other people, was revealed as one of the greatest challenges of her life. For decades, her activism and success was either ignored or credited as the work of César Chávez. She was often described by the media as Chávez’s assistant, “sidekick,” or even, on occasion, his girlfriend, rather than as the co-founder of the UFW. Her own words, “Sí, se puede,” were used by the Obama campaign as a slogan and are, to this day, attributed to Chávez.
When the documentary ended, Dolores Huerta, Camila Chávez and members of the Mills faculty congregated for a Q&A session. When asked about the significance of being remembered and how she works to support that today, Huerta emphasized the power of education, insisting that teachers need to be more conscious and that the content of what students learn must change. Huerta said, “We never teach into our kindergarten or pre-kindergarten, into our whole school system, what the contributions are of people of color.”
At one point, the session was paused as Alfredo Del Cid, assistant director of the Social Justice Resource Center at Mills, went on stage to present Huerta with an “I Am the First” pin. The pin is usually designated for first-generation Mills students, but was given to Huerta for her achievements as “a woman of many firsts.”
Dolores Huerta, at 87 years old, is still an advocate for social and economic change. She explained that they’re teaching others, especially young people, to organize, and also spoke about how they trying to address the school-to-prison pipeline. She’s active, if not solely as an individual, then in her role as the president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which is tackling a lot of these problems right now.
When asked how, in a world so inundated with adversity, she maintains her passion and drive to fight for marginalized communities, she translated the quote by Pablo Neruda, “Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera.”
“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.”