Huerta, Delores

As co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, Huerta is a role model for Mexican American women and is considered the most predominant Chicana labor leader in the United States. For more than thirty years she has dedicated her life to the fight for justice for migrant farm workers through her work as an activist, lobbyist and advocate.

Biographical Highlights

Delores Huerta is a role model for Mexican American women and is considered the most predominant Chicana labor leader in the United States. She co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) previously known as the United Farm Workers (UFW).  For more than thirty years she has dedicated her life to the fight for justice for migrant farm workers.

Together with Cesar Chavez, she directed the Delano grape boycott in 1965, a nation-wide boycott of California grapes.  The strike began because of the difference in wages among races. The boycott won the workers better conditions and better pay and the corporations recognized the union as a powerful force for the Mexican-American people. (Cesar Chavez, Social Justice)

As an active lobbyist, she has fought for more than 15 bills and successfully lobbied for the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. This was the first law of its kind in the United States, which grants farm workers the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. (The Learning Place)

Historical Roots

After graduating from Stockton College she began teaching in a farm workers’ community where she discovered the atrocities of life as a farm worker (The Learning Place). She became aware of the unhealthy living conditions and low wages that made it difficult for families to survive.

In the mid 1950’s she began working for the Community Service Organization (CSO). She initiated citizenship classes for the immigrant workers, helped them register to vote, and continued lobbying to improve working conditions on the farms. (The Glass Ceiling)

She has been arrested 20 times for various peaceful demonstrations. In 1988 Delores suffered a brutal police beating during a nonviolent protest against a presidential candidate.  She suffered broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. This incident caused the San Francisco (location of the protest and beating) police department to adapt new rules and regulations regarding crowd control.  (The Glass Ceiling)

Importance

Huerta has shown the importance and effectiveness of nonviolent activism. She has made significant changes in the lives of the farm workers and their children through peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Her role in the movement to unionize farm workers has been monumental in the United States.  She has rallied groups of people who are often marginalized and treated unfairly to create social change.

Huerta is a noteworthy woman in history, “she went up against growers who had never before dealt directly with a Chicano, mush less a Chicana. Though some refused at first to work with her, growers eventually came to begrudgingly respect her.” (Felner 1998) She knocked down barriers of sexism and discrimination that permeated the work environment.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Huerta has contributed to the nonprofit sector through the establishment of the National Farm Workers Association. This organization laid the foundation for a network of other organizations with similar missions and has changed the lives of hundreds of migrant workers and their families by improving work conditions. Huerta has also been on the forefront of non-violent demonstrations. She has taught the world that organized boycotts and peaceful protest can be effective.
She is an example to the nonprofit sector in showing that hands-on hard work can transform government policy and create social change.

Key Related Ideas

Migrant worker refers to someone who moves from region to region in search of work. (Dictionary.com)

Civil Rights are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.

Living wages are the wages a full-time worker would need to earn to support a family above federal poverty line.

Peaceful protests are nonviolent actions that create social change. Examples of peaceful protest are, sit-ins, boycotts, strikes, etc.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Cesar Chavez (1927–1993) was dedicated to improving conditions and pay for farm works. He wanted Mexican-Americans to be proud of their distinct cultural heritage. He also wanted a change to achieve economic and political equality. He valued non-violent means of protest and he fought side by side with Huerta for migrant farm workers.
  • Fred Ross (1910–1992) “For more than a half-century Fred Ross was among the most influential, skilled, dedicated and successful of the community organizers who have done so much for the underdogs of American society.” (Meister 2004) He was a young Anglo organizer who started a chapter of the Community Service Organization. At the time, Huerta was working as a schoolteacher, but in 1955, she and her daughter joined him in his efforts. (Felner 1998)
  • Phil Burton (1926–1983) was a representative in the state of California. He was a liberal assemblyman, who encouraged Huerta to begin lobbying for farm workers’ rights in Sacramento. (Felner 1998)

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Farm Labor Organizing Committee “is a union representing people who do some of the most important work in America—migrant farm workers who pick the food we eat. Though these men, women, and too often, children feed our nation, they typically work for poverty wages, in fields laced with pesticides, under a broiling sun. At day’s end, they return to housing that can only be described as degrading to the human spirit.”  (http://www.floc.com)
  • The Migrant Seasonal Farm Workers in Rehabilitation “is an organization started by Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Rehabilitation Projects funded under section 304 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act and by other interested parties” (http://www.ccer.org/Migrant/homemig.htm)
  • National Farm Worker Ministry “is an interfaith organization that supports farm workers as they organize for empowerment, justice, and equality. NFWM began in 1920 as a ministry of charity and service, providing food, clothing and day care to the farm workers. When United Farm Workers founder César Chávez began organizing in the 1960's, he called on the religious community to change its emphasis from charity to justice. NFWM became the vehicle for people of faith to respond to that call. NFWM brings together national denominations, state councils of churches, religious orders and congregations, and concerned individuals to act with the farm workers to achieve fundamental change in their living and working conditions.” (http://www.nfwm.org/index/index.shtml)
  • Northwest Treeplanters and Farm Workers United “is Oregon’s union of farm workers, nursery, and reforestation workers, and Oregon’s largest Latino organization. PCUN’s fundamental goal is to empower farm workers to understand and take action against systematic exploitation and all of its effects. To achieve this end, PCUN is involved in community and workplace organizing on many different levels. Founded in 1985 by 80 farm workers, PCUN has since grown to include more than 5,000 registered members, 98% of which are Mexican and Central American immigrants, and to encompass a wide variety of organizing projects.” (http://www.pcun.org/resources/aboutpcun.asp)

Related Websites

The United Farm Worker Web Site at http://www.ufw.org contains information and tools on how someone can get involved in fighting for the rights of the migrant workers. This site also contains newspaper articles, press releases and other media outlets that share the goal of educating the public on the conditions of the migrant worker.

The US Department of Agricultural Web Site at  http://www.usda.gov/agency/oce/oce/labor-affairs/mspasumm.htm contains a detailed summary of the migrant and seasonal worker protection act. This information would be helpful to those seeking out a better understanding of the current protection policies.

Combose is a comprehensive website at http://www.combose.com/Society/Issues/Labor/Migrant_Workers that contains a list of articles that address the migrant farm workers on a global level. This site adds to the understanding that migrant farm work conditions are a concern all over the world.

Learning to Give at http://www.learningtogive.org/lessons/unit87/lesson2.html. This lesson created for students in grades 9-12 highlights Huerta and other recipients of the Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking.

Teacher Link at http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/Byrnes-famous/huerta.html contains a sample lesson plan to be utilized for grades 5-6 on Huerta.


Bibliography and Internet Sources

Cesar Chavez, Social Justice, and the Chicano Movement. Accessed November 1, 2004. http://incolor.inetnebr.com/kprice/#A%20final

Dictionary.com. Accessed November 1, 2004. www.dictionary.com

Felner, Julie. “For a Lifetime of Labor Championing the Rights of Farmworkers.” Ms. Magazine, January/February 1998. http://www.ufw.org/ms.htm 

The Glass Ceiling. Biography. Accessed October 25, 2004.
http://www.theglassceiling.com/biographies/bio15.htm

The Learning Place. Biography Center. Accessed October 25, 2004.
http://www.nwhp.org/tlp/biographies/biographies.html

Meister, Dick  “A Trailblazing Organizer's Organizer” Accessed October 25th, 2004. http://www.dickmeister.com/id73.html

Telgen, Diane and Jim Kamp - Editors. Notable Hispanic American Women, Gale Research, 1993.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.