It’s amazing that while Cesar Chavez is a household name because of his work in the farmworkers movement, we have a living legend who played an equally important role in that same movement who isn’t as well known. What’s even more amazing is that 87, she’s still active, traveling the U.S. and teaching the youth how to work towards both social and policy change.
Her name is Dolores Huerta, and she’s the subject of a documentary that’s screening at the Alamo Drafthouse. “Dolores,” premiered last week, and the fact that the civil rights icon made the trip to El Paso to accompany some screenings meant sold-out shows.
But this wasn’t her first time in El Paso; during the farmworkers movement, she and Chavez organized a big march to raise awareness about the conditions California grape workers had to face: wages as low as 70 cents per hour and lack of toilets and cold drinking water in sweltering heat. She played a key role in the grape boycott at the time, which helped start the first farmworker’s union and turned the conditions for farm workers around. All of this is in the documentary, which screens until Oct. 25.
For Xochitl Rodriguez, a local activist who works for an elected official, the opportunity to meet Huerta was daunting. It turns out that her parents marched alongside Huerta and Chavez when they were in El Paso.
“I remember going to the farm worker rallies when I was little, and the eagle was everywhere, and I vividly remember when the boycott got started,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s just crazy now to begin to get my head around how amazing and how organized the community was then and how my mom and dad were a part of that. I have this picture of myself in the ‘no grapes’ shirt, and I was like 6.”
Rodriguez didn’t buy tickets for the screening that included Huerta’s appearance. In a sense, she was a bit relieved at first. She wasn’t sure how emotional she would get if she met her. Lo and behold, when she turned a corner after watching the movie, there was Huerta at a table signing autographs. Her friend convinced her to get in line and meet her. By the time she got to talk to her, she was the last one there. You can see from her expression in the photo on the left that Rodriguez was pretty stoked to be next to her.
“We talked about voting initiatives and different problems that exist in the community and how we might overcome them,” Rodriguez said. “It was amazing. I didn’t feel afraid to talk to her. I felt like we were two ladies sitting at the white board sharing ideas, and that was just so inspiring.”
Over the phone, I asked Huerta what she thought of the grassroots activism she sees today.
“I think it’s fabulous, but on the other hand, I think that all of the protests and the marches are not going to have the effect and the outcome that we want unless we take those protests and marches to the ballot box and people actually vote,” Huerta said. “Unless that happens, things are going to stay the same.”