When Dolores Huerta was little, her grand¬ father gave her the nickname “Seven Tongues” because she was a talkative girl. It was sign of what she was to become.
Huerta was born Dolores Fernandez in the small mining town of Dawson, New Mexico. Her father was a coal miner who later became involved in the labor movement and eventual¬ ly entered politics as a state legislator.
Huerta’s parents divorced when she was young, and she moved with her mother to Stockton, California. Her mother opened a restaurant and hotel, which also served as an impromptu emergency shelter whenever a farmworker suffered an injury on the job. It was here that Huerta First witnessed braceros, or migrant farmworkers, who were treated, she said, “like dogs, almost like slaves.”
After attending college, Huerta became a teacher. She witnessed the farmworkers’ chil¬ dren coming to class, she said, “barefoot, so hungry, so poor,” she decided she could do more to help her students as an activist who organized their parents.
In the early 1960s, Huerta became involved in the Community Service Organization, which advocated for the rights of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. There she met Cesar Chavez (see no. 47), who shared her concern about the plight of farmworkers. Eventually, they both left the CSO and began to recruit farmworkers to form their own union.
It was not an easy task. Many of the braceros feared upsetting the powerful growers who employed them. However, Huerta and Chavez eventually succeeded in forming an effective union—later known as the United Farm Workers (UFW)—that fought for better wages and working conditions for its members. It won the support of college students, politi¬ cians, activists, and the public.
During her early years in the labor move¬ ment, Huerta met her second husband,Ventura Huerta, who was also an activist. The marriage did not last, partly as a result of her devotion to her work. Although she has admit¬ ted to placing her labor activities above con¬ cerns for her family, Huerta married twice and managed to raise a total of eleven children.
In 1988, during a peaceful demonstration in San Francisco, Huerta suffered broken ribs and a ruptured spleen when police officers swung their batons at protesters. The incident made headlines and caused the San Francisco police to change their crowd control policies. Huerta recovered from her injuries and returned to work for the UFW.
Huerta continued to work for the UFW as its treasurer as she entered her seventies. Her concerns remained women’s issues, in particu¬ lar equal wages, improved education, day care, and health services.