Masterclass in Organizing with Dolores Huerta
Watch: A Talk with Dolores Huerta
From the importance of an anti-racism curriculum all the way to the injustice of bananas, Dolores Huerta captivated us with her insights on grassroots organizing. Dolores expressed her excitement to us at the opportunity to share the role of religious institutions—including her own spiritual formation—in building a more just and equitable society. Here’s the shortlist of particularly potent insights for each of us to keep in our organizing handbooks:
“…when you are doing work that is safe, you might say, then you get a lot of support. When you do work that is a little bit more progressive, and what some people might think is radical, then you don't get as much support...When we worked at CSO, all of the religious organizations supported us. But, when we started the farmworkers union, it was a different story. And there it was rather interesting because the first organization that supported us were the Jewish organizations. Then the Protestant organizations. The last ones to come on board were the Catholics. Of course, once they did come on board, they were very, very helpful.”
“People in their areas, where they live, if they can start contacting their Congresspersons and their senators to tell them to pass this immigration bill, that will be so important. I like to quote Michael Moore, the documentarian. Michael Moore says this: when you wake up in the morning, what do we do? We wash our faces. We brush our teeth. And then we call our Congressman.; So, we can call our Congressman either through a phone call or through e-mail or through a snail mail, a handwritten letter.”
“We want the people that represent us to be servants. And people that are there to serve the people, and not just to make a profit on their own successes. I encourage you to run for your local school board, to get started. Some of your local agencies out there, public organizations, and then go on to the Congress and to the U.S. Senate and for your state legislatures, also. City councils, also.”
“I want to say this to all the young people out there, all of the great movements in our country have always been led by young people. The civil rights movement. The gay rights movement. The environmental movement. It's always been led by young people. A lot of young people would say to me, ‘Gee, I'm so sorry I missed the 60s.’ I tell them, ‘You know what? We're back on steroids!’ Okay? The 60s are back on steroids. The young people have so many more devices that can help us, with the cell phones and they’re able to get on the social platforms to spread their message. This is a time that we can make it happen.”
“As my mother would tell us if you see somebody that needs help, don't wait for them to ask for help. You have a responsibility to help them. Do whatever you can in every situation. The other thing, don't expect recompense for what you are doing. Because if you do accept gratification or reward you are taking away the grace of God from that act that you did to help people.”
“I want to stress to the young people out there that we can change everything, but we don't have to use violence to do it. Nonviolence is a very, very spiritual force. As Gandhi… charisma. This is a very strong spiritual force. You really can’t see it physically, but it does manifest itself physically, because when you see it, then you can make changes, and you don't have to use violence to make those changes.”
“One of the things we have to do is remember that the fight for social justice is not a sprint, okay? It's a marathon. We are not going to be able to win every scrimmage at the time. We will lose some, but don't get disheartened when you have a setback. Remember we are learning along that path for social justice. We are learning and we learn from our mistakes because they are our best teachers. And if something doesn't go the way we want it to go, then we have to do something different. And to celebrate our victories, whatever they may be. Even celebrate the work that we are doing. I like music. I like dancing.
Carr Harkrader: My name is Carr Harkrader, I'm the director of the Interfaith Leadership Institute here at IFYC. I can think of no two people that are more exemplar of what leadership looks like in a diverse world than our two panelists today. I have the honor of introducing one of those panelists, that’s Dr. Antonio Flores. I will turn it over to him in just a second after this introduction. So, Dr. Antonio Flores has served as president and C.E.O. of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and University, known as HACU for over 20 years. He has been a leading voice of the Hispanic Serving Institutions and his advocacy efforts have gone on over $4 billion of federal funding for HSI’s. HACU’s membership represents more than 500 colleges and universities that collectively serve two-thirds of the nearly 4 million Hispanic students in U.S. higher education, across 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and it also includes 28 leading universities in Latin America and Spain. Dr. Flores earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration for the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and has received numerous recognitions and honors for his contributions to higher education. We are so grateful to have him here today. Dr. Flores, I’m going to pass it over to you.
Antonio Flores: Thank you, Carr. Thank you very much, Carr Harkrader, for the director of the Interfaith Leadership Institute. We are delighted to be part of this event because obviously, we think the world of our main presenter today, Dolores Huerta, who I’m going to introduce briefly, I just want to highlight the fact that the University of La Verne, which is co-hosting this event, is a distinguished member of our association. And, of course, moving on to briefly, just sharing some of my thoughts on Dolores Huerta's incredible life and contributions to society. But I want to highlight the fact that she graduated from two Hispanic Serving Institutions, San Joaquín Valley College, as well as the University of the Pacific. We are just so proud of her many accomplishments and being an alumnus of HSI’s is just such an honor. Most of the world really knows that Dolores Huerta is an icon, not only in the Latino community but in our nation and beyond. She obviously is known for her tremendous leadership and the civil rights movement and the labor rights movement. Together with the legendary César Chávez, she co-founded the United Fund Workers Union. She also more recently has created the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
She has received numerous recognitions from across the world and in our country itself. She obviously has been the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Clinton in 1998. Then in 2012, she received, from President Obama, the presidential medal of freedom, which is the highest civilian award in our nation. So, Dolores needs to introduction. She is well known to all of us. We are just thrilled that we'll have an opportunity to have a kind of free-flowing conversation today about some of her life experiences centered around leadership. Because, obviously, we believe that in our times, leadership, more than ever, is needed to help heal so many wounds that our society is experiencing today. I want to start, Dolores, by asking you, when you were first starting your work, what institutions, what communities, and individuals influenced your leadership? And how did they sustain you when you faced such tremendous challenges as you did?
Dolores Huerta: Well, that's an interesting question. Because when you are doing work that is safe, you might say, then you get a lot of support. When you do work that is a little bit more progressive, and what some people might think is radical, then you don't get as much support. It was really interesting; I'll give you two examples of that. Well, César Chávez and I came out of the organization of the community service organization, which was a grassroots organization in California. We had a chapter in Arizona. We were able to pass some very, very progressive legislation, like having people who are legal immigrants to the United States be able to get public assistance. That is very important, because today we have millions of people that are able to get healthcare, for instance, even though they are not yet citizens, but they are legal residents of the United States. That was one major piece of legislation we passed.
The other one was being able to register voters door to door, which in some places like Texas you still can't do that. I mean, what I should say is that you have to find a deputy registrar to register them. In other words, to make the registration easy. Also, so that people can vote in the Spanish language, that they could get their driver's licenses in their own ethnic language. Those are very important pieces of legislation. When we worked at CSO, all of the religious organizations supported us. But, when we started the farmworkers union, it was a different story, Okay? And there it was rather interesting because the first organization that supported us were the Jewish organizations. Then the Protestant organizations. The last ones to come on board were the Catholics. Of course, once they did come on board, they were very, very helpful. It was rather interesting to see not only that but the organizations, there were organizations, Latino organizations that did not support us when we started the farmworkers union because this is during the time of the Vietnam war, some of the Latino organizations had been started by veterans, like LULAC and the G.I. forum and they did not support the farmworkers union when we first started. They came on board also later on, as the Catholic church did. But in the beginning, they were reluctant.
Antonio Flores: That's interesting. Probably the fact that the Catholic church came around at the very end is because Pope Francis was not around at that time.
Dolores Huerta: There was a lot… were Catholics and they had relatives, and of course they… The word that they used back in those days, they said we were communists. Of course, we were not. I said we're Democrats, not communists. It's interesting because, in today's world, you see people using that same kind of language, saying that people are socialists, right? That's the new word that took the place of "communist."
Antonio Flores: Right. Yes. It's so fascinating to hear you share with us those stories because we are living in a very different world, but some of the issues persist even today, and one of them, which seems to be growing continually, unfortunately, is inequality. It has just gotten worse and worse over time. I wonder if you could share with us, some of your thoughts on what might be some of the contributing factors to that persisting and growing inequality in our society and across the world. What are some of the things that we could do to close all of those huge gaps in socioeconomic conditions in our society? If you could maybe even think of what cultures in universities might be able to help with that.
Dolores Huerta: Thank you, Dr. Flores. That's a great question. We know we have systemic racism in the United States of America. It permeates all of our organizations, our public institutions, our private institutions, the corporations. It is there. It is like cancer that we have in our United States of America. In order to eliminate racism, it’s going to take all of us working together to end it. Of course, I believe that religions, organized religion has a very, very big role in making that happen. On the other hand, we have to start being honest about some of the positions that organized religion takes. You mentioned Pope Francis, for instance. Okay, the Pope has come to move the needle a little bit when it comes to the issues of gay marriage. But when it comes to women's reproductive rights, they are stuck. And not only that but the Catholic church, which was supportive of the farmworker movement, we had seminarians on ticket lines, we had bishops that came, who negotiated… They gave housing to the farmworkers when they were in the boycott. Now the Catholic church, unfortunately, has moved so far to the right, that we might say, at this point, they are part of the problem. We can say the same about the evangelicals. And the heart of this, of course, is the issue of gay rights and women's reproductive rights. It’s going to take, I think, all of the young people that are on this webinar today to keep working to make sure that the religious institutions change on that. When it comes to the issue of women's rights, again, you have the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Jewish religion, they have women priests, they have women bishops, yet the Catholic church is still stuck, you might say, in the last century, before the last century, in not extending any of these rights to women.
The one thing that I think that we can do, number one, we have to call upon all of the organizations, as I said. Public, private corporations, that have to start doing something to end the racism in our society. When we think about how did we grow near Nazis like the Proud Boys and these organizations that stormed the Capitol of the United States? We have to come back to our education system in the United States. We have to start teaching people the real history of the United States. The Howard Zinn history of the United States of America. Reminding people that this country was a brown country. And that the real immigrants to the United States are the people that came from Europe. Because we, the Latinos are the natives to the continent. I like to say to people, google a map of the United States before 1848. It's a shocker when you look at that map because a third of the United States was Mexico.
So, when they say to us Mexican Americans go back where you came from, we have to say, “no, we are where we came from. We are the indigenous people of this continent.” The other thing, when it comes to skin color, racism because of the color of one's skin, that is such a ridiculous notion. People have to understand that racism was constructed to try to justify slavery. Having people work for nothing, basically. That's exactly what it is. That, of course, applies to not only black people, brown people, Asian people. Immigrants that came to this country that built the country literally, native Americans and the blacks were the first slaves that built the United States of America. They built the Congress. They built the White House. They have not been acknowledged for that.
Another thing, this is really… This is science, okay? The fact that we are only one human race. We don't have a lot of different races. We have different nationalities and cultures, but we only have one human race. And our human race came from Africa. We have to remember that. So, all of us are Africans of different shades and colors. We are homo sapiens. How did we survive on this planet? We survived by protecting each other, taking care of each other, sharing. Sharing what we had. Because we were the weakest of the animals, you might say, or the primates, and yet we survived by taking care of each other. So, we have to go back to education and start teaching ethnic studies, starting from kindergarten. Because we know the children are not born racist, this is what they inherit from their parents and from the culture that they live in. We have to change that. This is something we can do immediately. Start teaching ethnic studies right from kindergarten. We can say to all of those neo-Nazis out there and those white supremacists, get over it, you are Africans, okay? Get over it already.
Antonio Flores: Yes. You put it that so well. Obviously, that leads us to the question of the fact that we are probably one of the most diverse nations in the world, in terms of what you said, differences of color, differences of ethnicity, national origins and so forth. And yet we experience some of the worst cases of racism. That means that diversity is not embraced by some of our people in the U.S. Especially those racist organizations and so forth. The worst example that we saw, obviously, it happened just last month, on January 6, when the riot of the Capitol happened. And all of those terrible, violent incidents occurred. That was something that didn’t just happen by accident, but it evolved, and it came from that notion of racism, people rejecting diversity. So, the question, in my mind, how can we help install, you already mentioned curriculum in schools and teaching, but, in fact, how can we install the values of sharing, as you said, of community, of equality, etc.? All of those good things that make for the embracement of diversity in our society, to counteract all of these negative forces?
Dolores Huerta: You know there was a great civil rights leader. He is still alive. If you haven’t had him in your group, I would recommend it, Dr. Jim Lawson. He is the one that worked with Dr. Martin Luther King to teach nonviolence. He had a great quote, a statement. “All of us have to work together to dismantle the systems of oppression,” okay? All of us have to do that together. I would say to all of the students on our zoom today, look at your own university, your own school where you are studying, and see what they are doing in terms of teaching about racial inequality. It's not just about Dr. Martin Luther King. We should be taught about Emmett Till, this 14-year-old that was killed in Mississippi because they said he was… with a white woman, there’s a documentary about him. There’s another documentary, I’ll repeat his name again, Emmett Till. That should be taught in every school. There’s another documentary called “Foreigners in their own lands”, which talks about the way that a third of the United States, which is Mexico, was taken from Mexico in a very violent way by the United States of America. Another one is a documentary about Matthew Shephard, a young, brilliant young student who was going to be a doctor, who was killed because he was gay, by other young men.
These are important documentaries, I think so that people can start learning sensitivity. When we talk about immigration, I just want to throw this out there, because I think this is a place where everybody on zoom today can be very, very helpful. There is an immigration bill that is being presented by the Biden administration. It’s going to take all of us to get that bill passed, okay? People in their areas, where they live, if they can start contacting their Congresspersons and their senators to tell them to pass this immigration bill, that will be so important. I like to quote Michael Moore, the documentarian. Michael Moore says this, “when you wake up in the morning, what do we do? We wash our faces. We brush our teeth. And then we call our Congressman.” So, we can call our Congressman either through a phone call or through e-mail or through snail mail, a handwritten letter. And getting petitions at your schools, with all of your friends, and getting petitions. It can be a petition of 10 people or get a hundred of them and send them to your Congressperson and to your senator, so we can get immigration reform passed. And I want to add something when I talk about immigration reform. This, of course, will give legal status to so many people that are here undocumented in the United States of America, that are working very hard every day, like the farmworkers, putting food on everybody's table.
Many of the people in construction. They do really the hard, hard jobs, taking care of children, taking care of the elderly, keeping our buildings clean and safer and sanitary. So, all of those people who are working hard deserve to become legalized citizens of the United States of America. I want to say this word, too. I will say the word “bananas.” I know you're thinking, are we bananas, or what? The reason I’m saying bananas is because, when we think of all of the bananas, we eat every day in the United States, the money we spend for bananas, it does not go to the people in Guatemala. Or Honduras. The places where these refugees are coming to our border. That money goes to Dole Banana, Chiquita Banana, American banana companies. This is one of the things that we have to do, to get good people to represent us in Congress. Say, this is unfair, that people come to our borders to seek refuge because they are escaping poverty. They are escaping violence. We have to help them and not turn them away, but also change our economic systems to make sure the money that we spend for bananas goes to the people that produce the bananas, and on whose lands the bananas are produced.
Antonio Flores: Absolutely. It's such a pressing issue that one that you just brought up of immigration reform. Also, the conditions, the living conditions of Central Americans in particular. I know that President Biden has recommended $4 billion to be invested in development in Central America. Hopefully, some of the money will be used to also educate corporations to be more humane and to treat much better the people in Central America. That the money invested in those countries will help them remain in their home communities and live a decent life with health and education and housing that is humane. I think we all identify with that and support that. Just a bit of a commercial here on immigration reform. HACU, of course, the association that I'm proud to represent, is committed to supporting that. We are rallying with many other national organizations to do that. We have a website dedicated to advocacy. It's very easy to use. I will pass on the information in our event, it’s HACUadvocates, one word, hacuadvocates.net That will take you to a series of resources and tools that you can use to immediately communicate very effectively with your members of Congress on issues that we are advocating for, such as immigration reform. We have that right now on our website. Obviously, one thing that we need to also highlight is the fact that the so-called minority communities are becoming increasingly the majority in many key states, including California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, among many others.
Obviously, in California, we know that about 55% of all the students in K-12 are Latino. If you add the African American and the Asian American and others, they are the vast majority. The same is happening in Texas already. And yet we still have a lot of challenges with respect to the lack of role models in classrooms. Teachers of color if you will. And the fact that the curriculum not only reflects what this community is all about and history or otherwise. So, we need to have new leaders emerge from our communities that are able to tackle those issues, but also become leaders for everyone. Because they are going to be in positions of leadership that is going to impact on, obviously, Latinos and Latinas, but also, the rest of society. We want to make sure they are empowered with a great education and so forth. But one thing that you really personify in my mind, with respect to leadership, is your sense, your very keen sense of service. To me, that's a key element of future generation’s leadership. So, they don't become engrossed in their own self personal development, but they think of themselves as servant leaders. What can you tell us about this? You have lived that so much.
Dolores Huerta: You touched on a very important issue. The Dolores Huerta Foundation, we actually do exactly what you are talking about. We organize people at the grassroots level. We do house meetings, now of course, with the pandemic we haven't been able to do meetings in person, but we do meetings on zoom. What we do is create what we call grassroots leadership. People that take on their own communities. We have had many, many successes in infrastructure. People have been able to get swimming pools, sidewalks, streets, streetlights, a gymnasium, a state-of-the-art gymnasium for the middle school, and neighborhood parks, getting streets paved that were not paved, etc. In some of these very poor neighborhoods. But the main thing is that they go on and they, themselves, go on to become elected, so they serve on school boards, and serve on recreation boards, and water boards, and kind of taking over the part in their own community. That is a very important aspect because as you said before, we want the people that represent us to be servants. And people that are there to serve the people, and not just to make a profit on their own successes.
We have seen a lot of this now, as you mentioned, what happened on January 6. Where even in spite of people being threatened, that got death threats, like Nancy Pelosi, and Ocasio-Cortez. And yet we have politicians not acknowledging or taking any responsibility to make sure that this doesn't happen again. This is very important. There is a bill in Congress, another important measure, it’s H.R. 1. This bill is going to improve our voting systems, for one. One of the important parts of that bill, of course, is to end all of these different kinds of methods they use to suppress voters. To make sure people can get registered to vote, like in Texas where it's very hard for people to register to vote. Also, to get public financing. Because we know that right now money dictates who is going to be getting elected. But this will start… We can start making sure that the public, that we are the ones that can donate to people through our tax systems. So that the millionaires are not the ones getting elected and the ones that don't really care about poor people. I would like you to put H.R. 1 on the top of your agenda so we can make sure that we start electing. Many of you on zoom are the ones that are going to… I encourage you to run for your local school board, to get started. Some of your local agencies out there, public organizations, and then go on to the Congress and to the U.S. Senate and for your state legislatures, also. City councils, also.
Antonio Flores: Great. And, of course, as we speak, the U.S. Senate is deliberating those very issues with respect to the impeachment process. It's so surreal, all of this that we are going through is happening at the same time that our nation and the world are suffering a tremendous pandemic. That we all face and that has killed so many. And it has made unhealthy so many. Particularly, in our case, in our country, African Americans and Latinos and Latinas, because, obviously, it has to do a lot with socioeconomic conditions, inequality, and that is the root of the problem in public health, too. So, we have a growing number of Latino leaders in Congress, as well and Latinas, who are joining the ranks of U.S. representatives and senators. What would you say to them? As to how they can be more impactful in promoting the kinds of legislative initiatives that will do justice to people who are suffering so much.
Dolores Huerta: Well, I think that they need to take more leadership. We know that some of the initiatives that people were marching for, especially young people, that are really taking the lead, and I want to say this to all the young people out there, all of the great movements in our country have always been led by young people. The civil rights movement. The gay rights movement. The environmental movement. It's always been led by young people. A lot of young people would say to me, "gee, I'm so sorry I missed the 60s." I tell them, “you know what? We're back in steroids!” Ok? The 60s are back in steroids. The young people have so many more devices that can help us, with the cell phones and they’re able to get on the social platforms to spread their message. This is a time that we can make it happen. Dr. Flores, you mentioned, a little while ago, about the sharing. Basically, this is what we are talking about. We are talking about sharing the resources of the United States of America. It is not right that you have 10% of the wealthy families, like Walmart, 10% of the wealthy families and the rich corporations own 90% of the wealth in the United States of America. How did that happen? Okay? We know that that is not right.
We have a lot of people living in poverty. Especially during the pandemic, so many people lost their jobs. We have to have a sharing economy. I'm not talking about Uber or Lyft; I’m talking about that we have to share the resources of our country for everyone. Okay? So, we have to end this income inequality that exists in our country. Of course, one of the ways, as we talked about earlier, is electing people that are going to be servants and that are going to fight for the poor. And yes, everybody should have healthcare. And we should have a single-payer. I mean, the United Kingdom, England, have had national healthcare since after World War II. That is decades ago, and yet we don’t have it in the United States of America. We should have free college tuition for everyone. There is no reason… because you have countries in Europe that do have healthcare for everyone free. College education for everyone free. And we have countries in Latin America. Cuba has it. Cuba, which has an economic boycott by the United States, hopefully now, with President Biden, that can be lifted. But in Cuba, I don't know, Dr. Flores, if you have been to Cuba. If you haven't, you need to go. There you have, everybody in Cuba has free healthcare. Everybody in Cuba has a free college education. So, if this teeny, little country like Cuba can do this for its citizens, the United States of America should be able to do it for its residents here.
Antonio Flores: Sure. And obviously, even other countries that operate under the same framework of capitalism as we do, do it in a more humane way. I mean, if we go to Europe, you see a lot of European countries that provide exactly what you are saying. It's medical services, health services for everyone, with the same doctors regardless of your socioeconomic condition. The same quality of education. Even from Pre-K all the way up to college. Free. And it’s not free in the sense that no one is paying for it. Society is paying for it. They all contribute with taxes, but they’re applied to the improvement of life for everyone. That is something that, even without thinking just of a country as small as Cuba, but countries like France. Countries like Denmark. Countries like Sweden and so forth and so on. They have a much more equitable set of conditions, even though they still have inequality, but not to the degree that we do. Not to the extent that we do. I happen to be part, just recently became part of a national coalition that is called the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism. The focus of that group is to find new ways of providing better wages for those workers that are at the bottom of the barrel right now. Those who work in agriculture, those who work in the service industry, those who work in jobs that are paid very little and no good benefits. That has to change.
Even the corporate model has to be inclusive of the workers. They should have revenue sharing with the workers and the workers actually could own the corporation. Not just a few. Of course, you reminded me when you said… the funding of the political process. The infamous case of Citizen United, that the Supreme Court legalized, for all intents and purposes, the corporate funding of politicians, without even having to disclose who gave them the money or how much. So that creates, obviously, a real problem for a country because money talks. That is something that has to be corrected and, as you said, maybe R. 1 would be the way to go, the resolution that is now in the house. If you could just reflect a little more about what we are going through here. Not since the civil war, our country has been as divided as it is today. The manifestations of racism have become so extreme. How can you explain that a young man from the Dallas area drove to El Paso to kill 23 Mexican Americans just because he thought they were Mexican Americans and actually came to do that and thought that they were invading, in quotes, the country because he learned from someone that that was the case. And of course, the number of examples of that type of extreme racism is scary, to say the least, because obviously, we have children, we have grandchildren, and we want them to be safe. We want them to be healthy. We want them to be good citizens. When you have all of these contradictory events and, obviously, that culminated on January 6, with what we know has been one of the worst events in the history of this country. How should our nation go forward and heal all those wounds and try to become truly the United States of America? Not the Disunited States of America as we are now.
Dolores Huerta: Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said that racism is an illness. It's a sickness. As you said, Dr. Flores, it's something that people have to be healed. We know all of that hatred against people of color comes from ignorance. That is what I said before, and we add to that the whole issue of mass incarceration, the killing of black and brown people by police. By the way, it's still continuing. Hundreds of black and brown people are killed by law enforcement. And of course, many are incarcerated and sentenced. We have to fight the whole… A police reform movement is a very important movement that all of us have to get involved in. Because the police have definitely gotten too much power in our country right now. Policing comes, and I think people know this now, comes from slavery. The first police were the ones that were entitled to go out there and catch the run-away slaves. We should not be afraid to criticize and to step up and say, “this needs to be changed.” You have to get the police out of our schools. Our foundation, we are working like in 14 different school districts and we’re working in four different counties in the state of California right now, to stop the school to prison pipeline. To stop the suspension and expulsion of black and brown students. We filed a lawsuit against our current high school district here in Bakersfield, which by the way is Kevin McCarthy's district. Demanding that they end the implicit bias. We won our lawsuit. There is still a lot of work to do because our current high school district has not done everything that they’re supposed to do to end discrimination and racism against black and brown students. This is a big, big job. This is one that all of us need to participate in making the change.
I want to say something we really didn't talk about, and that is labor unions. Okay? Labor unions are the ones that have risen the wages of people in our country and got protections for workers, like the farm workers in California, who, by the way, were not even given toilets by the growers. We have five martyrs, five people that were killed in the farm worker movement just to try to get toilets, unemployment insurance, rest periods, the right to organize. These are all very big struggles. And labor unions have been diminished. I want to say to all the students out there, don't be afraid to question. We have to question the whole issue of the amount of money that city budgets… Many cities, half of their budgets go to policing. Really? When it should be going to social workers and people that can handle some of the issues that families confront. We should challenge policing. We should challenge education. And yes, we should challenge capitalism. I'm saying we should challenge capitalism because it is not working for the majority of the people in the United States of America.
Antonio Flores: Thank you so much for your insight, Dolores. We have learned just so much in this last 45 minutes that we've been having this conversation. We are so grateful to you and I feel thoroughly honored and gratified to be part of this conversation. I want to thank Carr, again, for inviting me. At this point, I think it would be a good idea to allow our audience to ask questions. I think other people who work with him are going to help us with that.
Carr Harkrader: Thank you, Dr. Flores. Thank you, Dolores. This has already been a great conversation. We do have a lot of great audience questions. I’d love to get right to them if that's okay with both of you. We have one question that I'll start off with that is for Dolores. One of our participants is wondering what has influenced your personal world view, whether that be religion, spirituality, philosophy… Are there any thinkers or religious leaders that have influenced you? Especially as a young person when you were coming up yourself.
Dolores Huerta: I was born in the state of New Mexico. Many people there are devotees of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier. That was kind of the religious philosophy that was given to us as children. Number one, that you have to be of service to others. As my mother would tell us, if you see somebody that needs help, don't wait for them to ask for help. You have a responsibility to help them. Do whatever you can in every situation. The other thing, don't expect a recompense for what you are doing, because if you do accept gratification or reward you are taking away the grace of God from that act that you did to help people. That was pretty much, I think. The other one, I was a Girl Scout for ten years of my life. Of course, in the Girl Scouts, the whole philosophy of the Girl Scouts is to be of service to others. Then meeting my mentor, Fred Ross senior, who actually taught us that people have power. Every single person has the power to make the world a better place. Then, of course, I think the teachings of Gandhi have been important. The whole idea of nonviolence, I think is very important. I want to stress to the young people out here that we can change everything, but we don't have to use violence to do it. Nonviolence is a very, very spiritual force. As Gandhi… charisma. This is a very strong spiritual force. You really can’t see it physically, but it does manifest itself physically, because when you see it, then you can make changes, and you don't have to use violence to make those changes.
Carr Harkrader: Thank you. That's wonderful. That's a great reading list for us, too, the folks you have mentioned have been great writers as well. I will check many of them out after this. Another question for both of you, actually. I think this is from Victoria. She asks, when you felt exhausted in your fights for social justice or in your work, what did you do and what did you find that rejuvenated you? That's a theme we've heard from a lot of our students especially. It's an exhausting time right now, they’re really committed to a cause, but also want to think about self-care, or self-preservation. When either of you are tired, or have faced a challenge, where do you go for rejuvenation or for solace?
Dolores Huerta: One of the things we have to do is remember that the fight for social justice is not a sprint, okay? It's a marathon. We are not going to be able to win every scrimmage at the time. We will lose some, but don't get disheartened when you have a setback. Remember we are learning along that path for social justice. We are learning and we learn from our mistakes because they are our best teacher. And if something doesn't go the way we want it to go, then we have to do something different. We'll have to learn new tactics or new strategies, not to get disheartened. And to celebrate our victories, whatever they may be. Even celebrate the work that we are doing. I like music. I like dancing. With the pandemics we can't get together and celebrate a lot, but even we can celebrate on zoom the way that we do with our organization. We get together. We have a zoom lunch once a week. We do all of these different things; we have a dance party on zoom. So, celebrate, think of people telling stories, just sharing, I think. So, we can boost each other up. You are never out there by yourself.
Carr Harkrader: I wish we’d incorporated a dance element into this webinar.
Dolores Huerta: Next time.
Carr Harkrader: Next time. Dr. Flores, did you want to share anything?
Antonio Flores: In my case, my line of work is in education. Higher education. Advocating for better opportunities for communities that have been underserved historically. I'm an immigrant to this country. So, I think it's important that I point that out, because I was 25 when I came to the U.S. I had come from a very tiny farming community in rural Mexico. Where I think my life, my character, my personality, if you will, was pretty much shaped and defined. By the time I left that little community at the age of 11, because I couldn’t finish elementary school there, it was only up to fifth grade, I think I pretty much was set to go. In the sense of… and because it was such an underdeveloped community. With so many… deficiencies, if you will, compared to the city. When I moved to the city, it was like a whole different world. So, coming from that background, I think it makes you feel like anything that happens after that is really a win. Even when you have some setback as Dolores was saying, I try to reflect on the positive things that have happened over my lifetime, and in my work. Kind of celebrate that within my own mind. Frankly, as far as relaxation, I like to read, I like to listen to music. I go back to some readings that, I have reread so many of the same books over the years, that give me… energy, in a way. I feel like doing that helps me, not only to reconnect with values that I uphold, but to not feel discouraged, because life is always that way. It has always been that way. It has its ups and downs. You have to regroup when you have a down and move on to the next up. It's just the way it is. For instance, I have been here 20 years, more than 20 years with HACU. It was a tiny organization and our community was way behind.
Can you imagine? 20 years ago, the drop-out rate among that Latinos was 50%. In some cases, was higher. Today in K-12, the drop-out rate is less than 10% for our community. In college, we are about… the admission rate of Latinos is comparable to that of the Non-Hispanic whites. Where we have a challenge is graduating them at the same rate and getting them up to the graduate levels particularly. We are working on that. Everything that I see going back to those last 20 years is incredibly rewarding for me, so, any temporary defeat, if you will, is not a big deal. We can live through that. And regroup. I think a lot of times, you have to share what you are feeling about whatever situation. Not only with your family, which is the most immediate way to do it, but with your coworkers, your colleagues and friends. Because they are a source of support for you and vice-versa. That is basically how I deal with those kinds of situations.
Carr Harkrader: Thanks. That's wonderful. I think that's a wonderful note to end on, too, the idea of connection with your colleagues, your friends, people in your network. I think I can say that idea powers both of your work in different ways. Unfortunately, we had a ton of questions. Unfortunately, we won't be able to get to all of them, but that is great for both of you because I encourage our participants to go to HACU’s website and the Dolores Huerta Foundation website. There is a good chance that you can reach out to them through those and ask your questions there.
Dolores Huerta: I would like to make a comment.
Carr Harkrader: Oh, sure.
Dolores Huerta: Number one, Dr. Flores, I do not call it drop-out rates, I call it push-out rates, because this is what we have seen in the state of California. They addressed this by going to Brown, Jerry Brown addressed this, and governor Newsom has followed that, it’s because every school district now, they get the money directly from the state, but as part of getting that money they have to have a welcoming climate in every school. They have to take steps and there has been special funding that the state has provided for people of color, for low-income students, for foster children, so they are trying to equalize that, but it's not easy, because we have been discussing the systemic racism that exists in all of these school districts, especially in black and brown students. In our case, we filed a lawsuit, as I mentioned, they had expelled 2,100 black and brown students from the high school district in one year. As a result of all of our lawsuit, we brought that down to 21. In another area that we are working, where most of the students were African American students, 8 out of 10 African American students were being expelled and suspended. We have, of course, now we have an African American advisory committee that we instituted in that particular school district. I would say to all the young people out there, take on the local school districts and see exactly what they’re doing.
One more thing, I want to throw this out to all the young people out there. I talk about nonviolence. One of the things that we used a lot with the farm worker movement and also, with the Huerta foundation is fasting. César Chávez fasted for 25 days and the last one was 36 days, and this was about pesticides, and we haven't talked about the climate change and what is happening now, with global warming, but it’s something that we also have to put in our agenda. I would say, if you want to do something and do… the petition-gathering for the immigration bill that we talked about for the H.R. 1, the people’s bill to end voter suppression. Also, have everybody do a fast. It could be very simple. Everybody gives up their lunch, okay? Give up just one meal a day, and what you would have spent on lunch you can send it to an organization that you support. Whether it be climate change or Greta's group, the Parkland Florida Kids, the Black Lives Matter movement, the farm worker movement, art communities. This is a simple way to get people engaged and put the practice of… the whole system of nonviolence, put it into practice, not just talking about it. Don't forget to send those e-mails and letters to pass these important pieces of legislation. Could we end this? I don't know if they can unmute everybody, but I like to end my lectures by saying to people one good thing. And I like to ask the students, and I know we probably can't hear them, but I want them to remember this, and I like to ask them this. My question is this, who’s got the power? And I want them to say, "we've got the power." Then I say what kind of power? And the answer is "people power." Okay? I want them to remember each and every one of us has power to make changes. That power is in our person and this is all that we need to make the changes, the things that need to be changed. End racism, income inequality, okay? We have the power to do it.
Antonio Flores: That reminds me, Dolores, of that now very famous phrase that you and César Chávez coined in Spanish, translates to, “Sí, se puede.”
Dolores Huerta: It was not César, it was me. [LAUGHTER]
Carr Harkrader: Let me say, just thank you to you both. I think that's a wonderful note to end on. I hope you’re noticing the chats where people are putting their agreement with you, Dolores, that we do have people power. You and Dr. Flores gave us so many examples today of how to put that people power into action. I want to thank both of you all.
If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today.
more from IFYC
The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.