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Hispanic Heritage Month: Cesar Chavez & Dolores Huertas In The Spotlight

Beginning September 15th through October 15th, we have a whole month to celebrate and recognize the Hispanic heritage that has helped to shape the United States. During this time, we want to highlight the work of two different personalities who have fought for civil rights, humanity, and recognition. We will start with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, two activists who fought for equality and the right to social and political freedoms without discrimination.

Cesar Chavez’s Life Was Committed to Helping Hispanic Farmers

Cesar Chavez, a first-generation American, was born in Arizona in 1927. Around this era, the Great Depression affected many families, including his family; many lost their farms and moved to California. In California, Cesar Chavez and his family spent their life working in vineyards, orchards, and different fields. However, he also faced the hardships and injustices of farm worker life.

Chavez joined the US Navy in 1946 and returned from service in 1948. After coming back, he joined Fred Ross and the Community Service Organization (CSO) to lead anti-racial and anti-discrimination campaigns across California. Following his dreams and the experience learned by participating in the CSO, Cesar decided to fund the United Farmer Workers of America (UFW).

The United Farmer Workers of America: A New Future For Farm Workers

It always takes a strong union to remedy the economic injustices workers suffer. With Chavez’s help, the UFW built health clinics, daycare centers, and valuable job-training programs. However, that’s not all he accomplished. He fought against the poverty, discrimination, and powerlessness of Hispanic people living in the USA. He also went further by creating affordable housing for low-income working families, including Filipino American farm workers.

Cesar Chavez was the first to apply boycotts to major labor-management disputes. Millions of people across North America rallied to La Causa by boycotting grapes and other products like lettuce, forcing growers to bargain union contracts and agree to California’s Pioneering Farm Labor Law in 1975.

Another Hispanic Hero, Dolores Huertas Empowered Women, And Farm Workers

Dolores Huertas was born in 1930. She also came from a farm working family. Dolores‘ father was a union activist who won a seat in the New Mexico legislature in 1938. The agricultural community where they lived was made up of Mexican, Filipino, African-American, Japanese, and Chinese working families.

Earlier, we mentioned the relationship between Fred Ross and Cesar Chavez. They both worked in the CSO, where Dolores Huertas also served and founded the Agricultural Workers Association. In 1955, Fred introduced Dolores to Cesar, and soon they discovered they shared the vision to support and fight for farmer workers. As a result, they launched the National Farm Workers Association obtaining a lot of improvements for agricultural workers’ families.

Dolores’ impact wasn’t only on the farmers’ side. Huertas’ empowerment was an inspiration for women and girls, and now, Hispanic Heritage Month is a good way to recognize the impact she left. She broke gender barriers and supported the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power, which led to a significant increase in the number of women representatives at the local, state, and federal levels. And even now, she continues to work tirelessly, developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women, and children.

La Causa: A Big Event To Remember During Hispanic Heritage Month

La Causa was a pivotal event for human rights. For this march, thousands of people joined from across the nation in search of justice for the most marginalized people of that era: the farmers and the hard workers who put food on our tables. Encouraged by the victories of the black civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta used this venue to demand fair wages and humane working conditions for farmers.

To understand the cause of boycotts, strikes, marches, and people joining together to fight for their rights, it is important to understand the conditions for families (including kids) at work and housing. The payment was pitiful. A whole family wouldn’t get the minimum wage per hour at a farm. Work schedules extended to hundreds of hours every week, under intense weather conditions, with no protection, no water, no time or place to rest, surrounded by deadly chemicals, inadequate food, and shelter, and even sexual harassment. 

In addition, children were forced to work alongside their families, miss school, and become marginalized further by suffering social and economical discrimination. Chavez lived these situations in his skin. In eighth grade, he dropped out of school because teachers and other students discriminated against his heritage and his family’s work. 

Making Progress with Civil Rights For Those Who Are Marginalized

When farmworkers began to organize and protest in 1966, growers answered with violence. After the strikes against lettuce farms across California during 1968-70, Dolores Huerta organized thousands of labor contracts that improved wages for this workforce. Huertas and Chavez also worked tirelessly towards achieving better treatment rights like legal status for undocumented, or compensation as independent contractors. This allowed families to stay home with their children at night instead of being forced into workplaces hundreds of miles away with no public transportation options available.

Finally, after two big boycotts, the UFW obtained the following they needed to help California pass the state’s landmark ruling, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. This law established and protects the rights of all farmworkers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions. It also allows agricultural workers to vote in secret-ballot elections in California.

Learning About History To Create A More Inclusive Community During Hispanic Heritage Month

By celebrating the history and the stories of important people with Hispanic heritage, we embrace a new perspective of the different pathways for social justice, civil rights, and a journey to true freedom and equality. In addition to all different heritages and celebrations like Black Month, Asian Pacific, and Native Americans, altogether have been making a path of freedom and inclusion.

We believe in kids and young people, and we want to inspire them to believe in themselves. We remember Chavez and Huertas, who were inspired by Fred Ross to follow their dreams. They have forever changed people’s lives and were social role models for others. No matter race, land, color, or beliefs, their dream was to fight for a better world, and they made it! 

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