She is the small woman with the shy smile standing to Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s right at the podium in the Ambassador Hotel ballroom on June 5, 1968, as he thanks campaign workers after his California primary victory. He thanked her by name—“all of those Mexican Americans, and Dolores Huerta who is an old friend of mine who has worked with the union, to thank her and tell her how much I appreciate her coming tonight.” Although she looked about 18, Huerta was 38 at the time, a seasoned labor activist and lobbyist, having co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with César Chávez and negotiated the first NFWA contract during the legendary Delano grape strike. She is now president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and sits on the board of both the Feminist Majority Foundation and the People for the American Way.
Q: How vivid is that memory to you, 40 years later?
A: I can still summon the joy. And the sound in that room. And then the shock and loss. Our champion was gone. But there was no question that the movement would go on. We knew it would be a big challenge, that there would be roadblocks. But there will always be roadblocks.
Q: Was it any kind of turning point for you?
A: It was an important point in time. But nothing stopped at that point, you know? It was only the beginning. A lot of people have had better lives because of what came after 1968: Title IV, civil rights laws, laws against job discrimination, and fair housing.
Q: Did you have to fight cynicism?
A: No, not then, and not now. People say there are no demonstrations now, nobody marching against whatever, but that’s not true. There are anti-war marches, and marches for racial solidarity, but they don’t get covered. You turn on the news, you get the crime report and the scandal report, but you barely get the world report. I’m not sad that it’s not happening, because I know it is happening. The work for justice never finishes. It’s an ongoing movement, you don’t ever say, “There, that’s all fixed, now I can retire to the beach or something.” I have 11 children and 14 grandchildren—that’s a big investment in the future.