Latino Studies Dolores Huerta
by
Steven W. Bender
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0033

Introduction

Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and a cofounder with César Chávez of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, Dolores Huerta (b. 1930–) is an iconic figure among Mexican Americans and social justice activists. Although most of the written work on her life centers on the heyday of the UFW formation, activism, and successes in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily in central California during the Delano grape strike, Huerta’s activism continues in the early 21st century through her leadership of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she established in 2003. Complementing Huerta’s advocacy for fair worker pay and safe working conditions (especially protection against field pesticides) for farmworkers, her advocacy broadened over the years to encompass comprehensive immigration reform, public education funding and ethnic studies curricula, workplace sexual harassment, economic inequalities, and other issues of concern to Latinas and Latinos and especially families and youth. At the same time, in her role as vice president emeritus of the UFW, Huerta continued to advocate for dignity for farmworkers and their families. Despite her multiple roles and advocacies as a civil rights leader, labor leader, feminist, environmentalist, gay rights advocate, teacher, and mother of eleven children, it is surprising how sparse the written record is that addresses her many contributions, particularly in the etiology and techniques of organizing for social justice. Huerta’s life and body of work remain a fertile ground for scholarly research useful for those advocating on behalf of vulnerable populations.

General Overviews

By 2017 no full-length biography or autobiography focused on Dolores Huerta’s substantial contributions to farm labor advocacy or civil rights. Instead, Huerta’s career is most often addressed as part of compilations of influential Latinos and Latinas (such as Bruns 2008 and Chávez 2005) or of notable women (Schiff 2005) or as part of discussions of the legacy of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers union. Most of the books addressing solely Huerta’s legacy are targeted toward young audiences and thus are omitted from this article, with Murcia 2003 included here as a slightly more sophisticated yet still abbreviated account of Huerta’s life and contributions. Given their joint role in the formation of the farmworker union and their coleadership in the defining moments of the union’s dispute with Delano grape growers over fair wages and, later in the 1970s, with the competing International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, most works addressing either César Chávez or farm labor include at least passing discussion of Huerta’s leadership role. (See the Oxford Bibliographies article César Chávez.) Those works are not considered here aside from those—Griswold del Castillo and Garcia 1995 and Rose 2002—in which Huerta is accorded a chapter-length treatment of her contributions to the farm labor movement. Most of the works here, particularly Garcia 1993, focus on Huerta’s relationship with César Chávez and her leadership style.

  • Bruns, Roger A. Icons of Latino America: Latino Contributions to American Culture. Greenwood Icons. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    Includes a chapter-length biography of Huerta focusing on the Delano grape strike but also covers her personal and professional lives chronologically, culminating with her support of Hilary Clinton’s campaign for the 2008 presidency.

  • Chávez, Alicia. “Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers.” In Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community. Edited by Vicki L. Ruíz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, 240–254. Viewpoints on American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapter-length comprehensive biography that focuses on Huerta’s family life, negotiating styles, and relationship with César Chávez.

  • Garcia, Richard A. “Dolores Huerta: Woman, Organizer, and Symbol.” In Special Issue: Women in California History. California History 72.1 (1993): 56–71.

    DOI: 10.2307/25177326E-mail Citation »

    Written by a biographer of César Chávez, this extensive magazine portrait of Huerta discusses her leadership style and defining values and criticism of her then-nontraditional status as a mother and union leader. Available online by subscription.

  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard, and Richard A. Garcia. César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit. Oklahoma Western Biographies 2. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    While focusing necessarily on César Chávez, this Chávez biography includes a chapter on Dolores Huerta emphasizing her relationship with Chávez and her values and aims.

  • Murcia, Rebecca Thatcher. Dolores Huerta. Latinos in American History. Bear, DE: Mitchell Lane, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    Part of the Latinos in American History series and written by a former journalist, this forty-eight-page biography appears intended for younger readers. Drawing mostly from other published works on the United Farm Workers union, this book supplies an overview of Huerta’s career of activism with an emphasis on the Delano grape strike.

  • Rose, Margaret. “César Chávez and Dolores Huerta: Partners in ‘La Causa.’” In César Chávez: A Brief Biography with Documents. Edited by Richard W. Etulain, 95–106. Bedford Series in History and Culture. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    Eleven-page essay focusing on the collaboration and relationship between Huerta and César Chávez and some of their disagreements and her meager finances.

  • Schiff, Karenna Gore. “Dolores Huerta.” In Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America. By Karenna Gore Schiff, 297–340. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    Forty-page chapter biography of Huerta that emphasizes her relationship with César Chávez and her role in the Delano grape strike, her feminism, and her injuries at the hands of abusive San Francisco police, which led to a successful excessive-force lawsuit.

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