Here are some facts about the extraordinary activist behind the words “Yes, we can.”
Dolores Huerta may only be five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds, but she is a powerhouse for social change. Born in New Mexico in April 10, 1930, she has spent her life fighting to improve the standard of living for farm workers and battled discrimination. Huerta co-founded the nation’s largest farm workers union and was the first woman in U.S. history to organize and lobby on behalf of migrant workers. Now, in her mid-eighties, Huerta shows no sign of slowing down and still makes the headlines in her fight for labor equality and civil rights. Here are some facts about the extraordinary woman behind the words “Yes, we can.”
She coined the phrase “Si se pueda!”
During the darkest days of the labor movement, it was common for Latino leaders to say that the government was too powerful and that no matter how hard they fought, farm workers would never receive better working conditions. Huerta and Chavez often heard “No, no se puede!” which means “No, no it can’t be done.” On one occasion, Huerta responded, “Si, si se puede!” or “Yes, yes it can be done.” Her words quickly became the rallying cry for farm workers everywhere.
She helped organize a nationwide boycott of abusive grape growers.
In September 1965, over 5,000 Filipino-American grape-pickers from vineyards in California began a strike in protest of low-wages. A week later, Hispanic farm workers (led by Chavez and Huerta) joined the strike, in a protest that came to be known as the Delano Grape Strike. Huerta helped organize a large-scale boycott of California grapes, sending representatives to cities like Chicago and Boston to expand the boycott by convincing people to buy wine only if it had a union label. By 1970, grape growers agreed to accept contracts which unionized most of the industry, adding 50,000 UFW members — the most ever represented by a union in California agriculture.
She was nearly killed by the police.
On September 16, 1988 Huerta was distributing brochures to a crowd outside San Francisco’s Union Square hotel, where the then Vice President George Bush was making a speech. When police came to break up the crowd, Huerta endured a hail of blows from a police baton. Her injuries included six broken ribs and a pulverized spleen. She required more than a dozen blood transfusions.
She has fought not only for farm workers, but women everywhere.
After a long recovery from her injuries, Huerta took a hiatus from union organization to focus on women’s rights. She spent two years traveling the country on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power, working to encourage more Latinas to run for office. As a result of her work, there was a significant increase in the number of women representatives at the local, state and federal levels.
From the Bio Archives: This article was originally published on March 9, 2016.