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Dolores Huerta: The Vision and Voice of Her Life’s Work

A voice in defense of the oppressed

Dolores Huerta

— Ross D. Franklin/AP

Q: Are there different political views in the family?

A: No. They all have a very strong political conscience. It's wonderful. I like to tell this story: Once I was in jail, one of the times I was arrested. This group of college kids came to meet outside the jail. One of them handed me a note and it was from my 15-year-old daughter, Angela. The note said, "Mom, sorry I can't meet you when you come out of jail, but I'm knocking on doors to register people to vote." That was a big gift for me.Q: Why were you in jail?

A: Most of it was because you'd go talk to workers and they'd arrest you for trespassing. Sometimes we wouldn't even get inside the field to talk to them. They were already arresting us before we even got in there. That was one of my first arrests.

Q:I hear you and Casar would argue. Was it about style or issues?

A: I think over the years, as I thought about our big fights, it was mostly a question of tactics. It was never about philosophy, because with our philosophy we were always very much in tune, thinking the same way about direction, vision. It was always about tactics. But women think differently than men. When we had the grape boycott, Casar wanted to boycott potatoes, because this one big grower grew both grapes and potatoes. We had a long-distance fight, because I was in New York starting to do the grape boycott and Casar was back in California. He said, "We've got to boycott potatoes." But I said that when people think of potatoes they don't think of California, they think of Idaho, right? And so we had this big fight. I said, Casar, I think this is an important enough issue that I "should fly back to California so we can discuss this in person."But Casar didn't like to spend money. He didn't want to pay for the plane ticket. So he gave in. I think it's just a difference in the way you look at stuff. The whole macho thing comes in there and you want to be the tough guy or whatever. I mean, it's just the way men think. Not all men, but I always say men want to see who gets the blame and who gets the credit. Women say, "Let's get the job done. Who cares?"[Men] can't help it; they've been doing it since they were little kids playing marbles.

Q:Did you ever feel resentful of Casar being considered almost a saint?

A: Not really, because anybody who knew Casar knew that we were just very blessed to know someone like him and to be able to work with someone like him. When he did his first fast, he went five days without eating. "Oh, Casar, bless his fasting," I thought. I told him, "I feel so bad when I fight with you."He said, "Don't ever stop. Don't ever stop fighting with me. You're the one that really helps me think." You know, he was just a person, not a saint. He was a great person, but he was a human being, and he would make mistakes like other people.

Casar was always the one who was important. For Casar, that was also painful. When he first started organizing, he said one of us would have to be out there in front. He was uncomfortable with that role, you know. One time we were going into a meeting, with all the workers yelling, "Viva Chaivez!"And he had this really pained look on his face. I said, "What's the matter Casar?" He said, "I remember some of these people that wouldn't even give me a meeting when we started." He was a very practical person in terms of his own image. He wouldn't let us put his pictures on posters for a long time. When he was in jail one time we made this button and he got really mad at us because "as he was being dragged off to jail "he said, "Boycott the hell out of them!" So we put that on the button. Ooh! He was so mad. We had to change it to "Non-Violence Is Our Strength." While he was in jail, a whole month, his cousin started running him for governor. We had bumper stickers all over the state. He was very upset. He was not into the glory thing. It's kind of interesting now because there are all these streets and everything named after him. That was not Casar; he wanted people to get the work done, to work hard. He's buried right near the entrance to headquarters. I said he wanted to make sure people were coming early and leaving late. He worked very hard and set the example for everybody.

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