Dolores Huerta has worked her entire adult life to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination. She created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960 and co-founded with Cesar Chavez what would become the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta stepped down from leadership of the UFW in 1999, but she has not stopped working to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and women.
She was born Dolores Fernandez on April 10, 1930 in Dawson, New Mexico. Her family soon moved and she grew up in Stockton, California which is in the vast farming area of the San Juaquin Valley. In the 50’s Huerta obtained a teaching certificate and worked for a time as an elementary school teacher. Many of her students were the children of farm workers and were living in abhorrent poverty. She became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO), which worked to improve the lives of farm workers and to fight discrimination.
In 1960, Huerta created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA). Through the AWA, she was able to lobby politicians on such issues as allowing migrant workers without U.S. citizenship to receive public assistance and pensions; also, she got laws passed creating Spanish-language voting ballots and driver’s tests. In 1962, Huerta joined forces with Cesar Chavez to form what was to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) Union; she held a leadership position in the UFW until 1999. Despite no longer having a leadership role in the UFW, Huerta continues her work to improve the lives of farm workers, immigrants and women.
Huerta was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She has been the recipient of many other honors, including the Ellis Island Medal for Freedom Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award. In 2012 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
As an advocate for farmworkers’ rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times for participating in non-violent civil disobedience and strikes. She continues to be active in progressive causes, and serves on the boards of the Feminist Majority Foundation, People for the American Way, and the Consumer Federation of California.
Dolores’ married when she was in college to Ralph Head; they had two daughters, Celeste and Lori. After divorcing Head, Huerta married Ventura Huerta with whom she had five children. Their marriage also ended in divorce. Later Huerta had a long term romantic relationship withRichard Chavez, the brother of Cesar Chavez. Huerta and Chavez never married, but they had four children during their relationship. Huerta had a total of eleven children.