By Veronica Morley
“Dolores” hit the Maya Cinemas in Bakersfield on Friday Sept. 22. The documentary, produced by Carlos Santana, follows the life and work over 50 years of activist Dolores Huerta. Huerta worked alongside key political figures including: Robert Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. She fought not only for farm workers rights in Kern County in the 60’s, but in support of civil rights, women’s rights, and as an advocate for the health and environmental movements. Huerta joined viewers at the Maya on Sunday Sept. 24 to view the movie and take part in a Q&A.
Dolores Huerta founded the Agricultural Workers Association and set up door to door registration programs to encourage voting among farm-working communities. “Believe it or not in Texas today you cannot do that,” said Huerta on Sunday night.
Huerta fought local governments to improve the conditions of field workers. In 1962, Cesar Chavez and Dolores co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. She led the Delano Grape Boycott that became a nationwide call to change. She has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is noted for coining Barack Obama’s famous campaign slogan, “Yes we can” or as she put it, “Si se puede”.
“That’s what gives [me] the inspiration, once you see that people want to come together and take directive and action and the things that they can accomplish,” said Huerta when asked where she drew her inspiration for her work over the years.
The documentary does not only touch your heart by the work that Huerta did throughout American history, but also by the numerous sacrifices that she made for her cause.
Many have mixed feelings for how Huerta lived her life. She addresses in the film her decision to have 11 children, some out of wedlock, only to often leave them for long periods of time to continue her work.
Her children are also featured in the film addressing their childhood. The overall consensus of Huerta and her children was that the work she was doing was important work even though it was still difficult for Huerta and her children.
Huerta not only sacrificed time from her family, but also her physical safety and wellbeing. During a fundraiser in San Francisco hosted by President Bush, Huerta was badly injured by police at a protest. She suffered two broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. Huerta did not let that stop her from fighting for equal rights for farm workers, women, and others. It did however allow her to spend time with her family and mend some broken bridges during her recovery.
This film shows a history that has long been overlooked in America. “Dolores” is not just the story of one woman, it showcases her contribution to the social struggles of the 60’s for which unfortunately she has not been given much credit.
As a half-caucasian, half-latina, girl growing up and going to school in Kern County, I can tell you when the pilgrims came to America. When the Civil War began and ended. The general facts of the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for Women’s Rights. Yet as I sat there watching this film, I asked myself repeatedly, “Why did I never learn about this? Why was this not in textbooks? How can I have lived in Kern County my whole life, and never heard the details of the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott?”
Huerta addresses these questions in her film.
Most schools did not teach ethnic studies or Mexican-American studies until fairly recently. It was not until last year that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that called for high schools throughout the state to teach ethnic studies. Furthermore, it was not until August of this year that Arizona’s ban on Mexican-American studies in a Tucson high school district was lifted by a federal judge for being unconstitutional and discriminatory.
“Maybe what’s happening today is something that needed to happen. Because once we see that racism is so visible, with its ugly orange head. Okay, and not only do I know that we have to do something about it, but one of the things that I keep saying about it is we have got to include our schools and curriculums. Starting with Pre-K, headstart, kindergarten, the contributions of people of color to build the United States of America,” said Huerta on Sunday night.
The film’s director, Peter Bratt, points out the lack of education on ethnic studies by simply weaving and endless amount of historical footage. Throughout the film you witness interviews and stories of past events only to find a clip of the brutality and boycotts caught on camera. It once again strikes the question of how, with so much information available on these historical events, are they not even once mentioned as a part of American history?
Dolores joined viewers at the Maya on Sunday night and answered questions they had about herself and the film. When asked about her accomplishments, she said, “The biggest one would be in 1986 when we got the Amnesty Bill. Back in 1986, when 2 million farm workers got residency in America.”
Huerta said that even though it was Ronald Reagan who sign the law, the real work that brought that bill to life was done by Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Chuck Schumer. Huerta worked alongside many political figures as the documentary shows. Perhaps the most prominent was Robert Kennedy.
When asked what she believed would have happened, had Robert Kennedy not been killed and had become President, Huerta said, “We definitely would not be in the situation we are in today that’s for sure.”
Huerta worked endlessly for her beliefs and often received little to no recognition. In times she even faced struggles within her own organization, as she was the only female on the board for the UFW. Now she runs her own foundation and encourages young women to get involved and accept credit where credit is due. Huerta said that due to the films public producing and independent releasing, in the spring of 2018, they hope to make the film available for schools and community usage in February.