Dolores Huerta (New Mexico, 1930) is waging her umpteenth battle these days to defend the rights of Latinos. The pandemic has not stopped his attempt to mobilize the vote to remove Donald Trump from the White House in the presidential elections on November 3, the twenty-third that have been held since he was born. At 90, he is optimistic about young people because they are "aware of racism, homophobia and against sexism" and, from his home and the headquarters of his foundation in Bakersfield, California, he continues to make calls, interviews and organizing virtual meetings "so that poor people know they have power."
This is what he has been doing for more than 60 years since, in the 1950s, in his early 20s, he decided to join community organizations in the San Joaquín Valley, California, where he grew up watching farmers work in close conditions. into slavery and became aware of police brutality against Mexicans and African Americans. In 1962, aged 32 and with seven young children, Huerta co-founded the National Association of Farm Workers with César Chávez. In 1969, he led the grape boycott, for which they reached an agreement with the producers, after some 17 million Americans stopped consuming the fruit to support their demands.
His union has obtained health benefits, immigration assistance or cooperatives for the peasants, among other things, but Huerta often says that what the day laborers thank him most is that they put drinking water and toilets in the fields because it gives them "the dignity they deserve for the work they do to feed ”the country. Dolores Huerta's fight has not been without its blows. In her file she has a score of arrests for civil disobedience and strikes and, in 1988, during a demonstration, a police charge left her convalescing for months, with three broken ribs and an operation for which they had to remove her spleen. The recovery helped her to spend time with her 11 children, whom she sometimes left aside for their activism, something for which criticism rained down. “I always took my children to meetings, to marches, to protests. And they have turned out very well, ”she presumes, listing that among them there is a doctor, a lawyer, a chef, a nurse, a teacher and one who runs a women's aid center.
In addition to the fields and the streets, where in the 60s she embraced the feminist cause, the struggle of the civil rights leader has also been in the offices of the state legislatures and in Washington, where she did lobby to pass laws that benefited immigrants and farmers, such as the 1986 immigration amnesty.
Belonging to the fifth generation of an American family of Mexican origin, in his talks and interviews Huerta often recommends looking at a map of the United States from before the 1848 war to see that his family, like millions of Chicanos, did not cross the border Instead, the border crossed them. "When they tell us that we must go back to where we came from, I say:" We are here, where we came from. "
The mother of Sit can be, the phrase that decades later became Barack Obama's campaign slogan, maintains the Mexican legacy with its colorful blouses and its references to the Virgin of Guadalupe and Benito Juárez, whose phrase "respect for the rights of others is peace" quotes to defend the right to abortion or equal marriage.
Dolores Huerta responds to EL PAÍS in an interview in Spanish through Zoom, in the corner of her house destined for video calls, from where last May she celebrated her 90th birthday, a month late, in a virtual party for the one that passed actors like Salma Hayek, Alec Baldwin, Rosario Dawson and Danny Glover, musicians like Alicia Keys and Carlos Santana and Democratic politicians like the leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Bill and Hillary Clinton or the pair that will represent the Party Democrat on November 3, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, whom the civil rights leader has lent her support.
Question. You have been fighting for the rights of minorities and against racism and police brutality for more than 60 years, issues that seem more relevant today than ever and that, during the presidency of Donald Trump, have polarized the country. How are these struggles different from those of decades past?
Answer. It seems that we have the same struggle, but you can say that it is more in front in terms of advertising, in terms of what is in front of everyone. I think that we are living a very important moment, because right now we are looking at all the injustices that are in front of our faces and they cannot be ignored. It is time for all that to change and for discrimination to be removed, especially against people of color.
P. In part, social struggles are more visible thanks to technology and social media. This year many Americans demonstrated against racism after watching the video of George Floyd's death. What do you think of the mobilization it generated?
R. The reaction was tremendous, especially with the young people. The protests sprang up in all cities and not only here, but also in other countries of the world. Here where I live, in Kern County, California, it is very conservative and here you can say that not only have the police killed many black people, but also Latinos. It is something that keeps happening and since George Floyd's murder they keep killing people. What we see is that there is hope, with so many people right now who are demanding justice and that the tactics of the police be changed. Cops can't be judge, jury and the person who kills people, right? That cannot continue, it has to be changed.
P. In recent years there has been a rise in legitimate hate speech from the White House: attacks on Mexicans in the 2016 campaign, the idea that all problems come from outside, whether through Central American migrants or from China, and the president's refusal to condemn white supremacists. Is Donald Trump putting the country at an irreconcilable point?
R. All the actions of the president are done to divide people, to oppress Latino people, people of color and I believe that we Latinos are suffering from this. Right now we are working very hard on the census. President Trump tried to put a citizenship question on the census (whereby citizens had to give information about their immigration status). We, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, sue the president and we win. The question is no longer there, but our Latino people are not participating in the census and we are going to lose millions of dollars for our communities. And that money that comes from the federal government every year is used for schools, for health programs, for streets and parks, the things we need, and our people are so afraid that, although in the census it is private and confidential, they do not cooperate. It is as if they are invisible, as if they do not exist.
And the same goes for voting. We have 32 million Latinos in the US who can vote and we are also begging them (to do so). Latinos are a great people right now. Not only in States like California, Arizona or New Mexico, Texas, but also in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina… In all these States, Latinos can make a difference. We can elect the next president of the United States, but we have to register to vote and we have to vote. The vote is very important. That ticket is our revenge against all the attacks that President Trump has thrown at us. It is our weapon, it is a weapon without violence.
P. How would you describe Trump?
R. Actually it makes me sad with the president because he is a very ignorant person. It seems to me that he was never able to live with people from other ethnic groups and that is why he is very focused on white supremacy. Another thing that is done to me is that he did not work one day in his life with his hands, as well as the people who are working in the fields, in construction, in hotels, in services, taking care of children or people of the third age. And it seems to me that the poor president lacked an education and that is why we are looking at ignorance. It is very dangerous when such an ignorant person has so much power and is vindictive, is racist, does not respect women. Hopefully with the elections we can get rid of him.
There are people like him who also have these ideas of racism and who are white supremacists and we know they follow the president. And it is a sadness that he does not denounce racist people. Instead of denouncing them, give them more support so they feel stronger. And when we look at these racist people like the one who traveled almost 200 miles to El Paso (Texas) to kill people just because they were Mexican, it is very dangerous for our country. We are going to see what happens from here to the election and then why is the president also saying that, even if he loses the election, he is not going to leave office. It is going to be a very interesting novel. And very dangerous also because the United States is the strongest and richest country in the world and we have a lot of influence on everything that will happen in other countries.
P. Why did you decide to support Joe Biden in this election?
R. We know Biden not only because he was part of the Obama presidency, but in years past, when he was a senator, he always supported immigration reform like the amnesty we won in 1986. Right now, there is not much talk about immigration reform. , but I am sure that, by winning Joe Biden, we will be able to work back in a legalization program, which has always been the history of the United States. All the emigrants who came here, wherever they came from, eventually became citizens and right now we need to do that, because we have already been in a legalization plan for more than 20 years.
P. However, last year you criticized Biden when in one of the Democratic debates he spoke of criminalizing illegal border crossing.
R. We hope you change your position. We know we have a lot more Latinos in Congress right now. He depends on us for the choice. But he is a decent person, a person with whom I think one can reason. It's not crazy (laughs). She is not a person who just thinks of herself. I am very hopeful that we can talk to Joe Biden, because he is a person of reason and that we can move forward with immigration reform, but we always have to remind people that Congress makes the laws.
P. Since Trump became president, we have seen some of the toughest measures against immigration, such as the separation of migrant children from their parents or the program by which the United States sends asylum seekers to Mexico. However, public opinion seems to have lost interest in the subject. Why is it so difficult to sensitize Americans to an issue so intrinsic to this country as immigration?
R. This is based on racism and this president has used Latinos as a piñata, always hitting us and saying bad things against immigrants. He has used us to win more people to follow him from the racists in the United States and he uses people's fear of emigrants. That dialogue of the president has to be changed and we Latinos have to do that.
P. What do you expect to happen on November 3?
R. We hope for an election that is favorable to us Latinos, people of color, working people, women, and people who are working for a healthy world, without the power of oil and coal.
P. In the US, unlike other countries, the idea of having a female president still seems distant. Why do you think this happens?
R. What I need in the US is education. Gender studies have to be taught so that young children know that women are not objects, that we are the same as men. We may not have the physical strength that they have, but we have all the intelligence and we can do what they do too. In the US there is massive ignorance and that's where all discrimination comes from, also racial discrimination.
P. You coined the famous motto Yes you can, but first they attributed it to César Chávez and then to Barack Obama, who made it his slogan. When he presented you with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the former president told you that it was stolen from you, and you laughed. I understand that it doesn't bother you, but, don't you think that staying more in the shadows, without standing out, is a symptom of female leadership?
R. Women often find it difficult to attribute the things we do to ourselves, because it has always been imposed on us that we have to support men. And many times we do not think about ourselves and it is always difficult for us to give ourselves credit for what we do, because when a woman speaks for herself, they say, "No, this woman is very aggressive or very ambitious." My mother was called Alicia Chávez. She was a woman who owned a restaurant and many people criticized her. And they said: "Alicia is very ambitious", because she always wanted to have a better life for herself and for us, her children. But they criticized her and I have also taken those criticisms. "Why aren't you at home with your children? Why are you out there, in city council chambers, in the Sacramento legislature or in Washington, DC, fighting for the rights of immigrants? You must be in your house ”. We also need the voice of women, it is very important and that is why I always say to women: "We need them and do not feel guilty when they have to ask for help, be it for their home or to take care of their children."
Subscribe here to newsletter about elections in the United States