April 27, 2021
Las Vegas, N.M. – Dolores Huerta, a legendary American labor leader, civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers union with Cesar Chavez, is the guest speaker for New Mexico Highlands University’s virtual commencement ceremony May 15.
“We are very fortunate to have someone of Dolores Huertas’ stature speak at our Highlands University commencement,” said Highlands University President Sam Minner. “She is a giant in the labor movement in the United States and has a civil rights and social justice record that is both impressive and unique. I think Dolores Huerta will inspire our graduates to believe that they can make their positive mark on the world with determination, bravery, grit and compassion.”
Huerta was born April 10, 1930, in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico. She forged her place in American labor history in 1960 when she and Chavez joined forces to establish the Agricultural Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers union in 1962.
For four decades, Huerta served as vice president of the United Farm Workers and played a critical role in many of the union’s accomplishments.
Huerta, 91, is still active advocating for social justice. In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing and remains as its president. The foundation connects community-based organizations to state and national movements to register and educate voters; advocates for education reform; brings about infrastructure improvements in low-income communities; advocates for greater equality for the LGBTQ community; and creates strong leadership development.
Eric Romero, Highlands University languages and culture professor, helped lead the university’s President’s Advisory Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in its efforts to have Huerta speak at Highlands’ commencement. Huerta will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Highlands.
“The honorary doctorate recognizes that Dolores Huerta has contributed significantly to the humanitarian fabric of the United States and has had impact on lives, communities, organizations and policy,” Romero said. “Dolores Huerta has had a tremendous impact in many areas including labor organization, voter advocacy, women’s rights, LGBTQ inclusion and more. Her presentations and discourse are compelling messages for empowerment and alliance building. I’ve heard her speak on many occasions and have always felt motivated by her compassion and commitment to humanistic causes.”
Romero said that while Huerta is recognized internationally for her unwavering commitment to social issues, as a native daughter of New Mexico and with relatives in the Las Vegas area, Huerta directly impacted the community and Highlands University.
“Dolores Huerta was one of the champions of the Chicana/o movement for her work with Cesar Chavez and was influential in the civil rights activism that took place on the Highlands University campus. I anticipate that her presentation to our graduates will motivate them to pursue the highest levels of dedication and achievement,” Romero said.
Over the years, Huerta has received numerous awards for her activism. In in 1993, she was the first Latina to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and in 1998, she received the United States Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Huerta received the Icons of American Civil Rights Movement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum, and in 2012, she received the Medal of Freedom Award from President Barack Obama.
Huerta is widely quoted and is known for her bravery in the face of direct opposition from grape growers. Herself the daughter of migrant farm workers, Huerta once said: “We had violence directed at us by the growers themselves, trying to run us down with cars, pointing rifles at us, and spraying people with sulfur when they were on the picket line.”
Huerta once described why she thinks organized labor is essential: “I think organized labor is a necessary part of democracy. Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist.”
Huerta is also known for her leadership early in the women’s rights and feminism movements in America in the 1960s and 1970s, working with Gloria Steinem. Huerta once said: “We do need women in civic life. We do need women to run for office, to be in political office. We need a feminist to be at the table when decisions are being made so the right decisions will be made.”
Huerta’s focus on civic engagement has been a lifelong pursuit. She once said: “If people don’t vote, everything stays the same. You can protest until the sky turns yellow or the moon turns blue, and it’s not going to change anything if you don’t vote.”
In California, April 10 is Dolores Huerta Day.