From HispanicBusiness.com, Rachel Cook, 27 Apr 2012.
For Dolores Huerta, receiving a medal from the U.S. President is more than a nod to a lifetime dedicated to a multitude of social movements. It’s a hearty recognition of community organizing’s role in a democracy.
“Not only is (organizing) important, but it’s the only thing we can really do to ensure that people know what’s going on in our society and our country,” Huerta said by phone Thursday night.
Huerta, the famed civil rights, labor and women’s advocate, is among 13 people who will be honored this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, the White House announced Thursday.
Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became United Farm Workers of America, along with Cesar Chavez.
Also among the honorees are musician Bob Dylan, writer Toni Morrison, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Shimon Peres.
“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation,” President Obama said in a statement. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
Union leaders and activists said the award was fitting recognition of Huerta’s work and devotion to her causes. In a statement sent Thursday night, United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez recalled that Cesar Chavez once described Huerta as “completely fearless, both mentally and physically.”
“Her dynamic and inspiring leadership through the most difficult and turbulent times in the farm worker movement’s history established her not only as a leader of farm workers but as a role model for women and men across this nation and beyond,” the statement said.
Jack Brigham, executive director of the Bakersfield College foundation the Center for Kern Political Education, said “the Dolores” that he loves and respects is someone who is willing to put her neck on the line for controversial issues.
“I’ve worked with Dolores for over 40 years and I really have always admired her,” Brigham said. “I don’t know a finer person.”
The former labor organizer said many people don’t fully understand the significance of Huerta and the nonviolent farmworker movement she helped lead.
“There’s a lot to say about her but in my estimation she is the leading Latina figure in the United States today,” said Ray Gonzales, Ph.D., a former state assemblyman.
Gonzales pointed to Huerta’s role in founding the union and her post as chief negotiator for the organization, work that went a long way toward recognizing the dignity of agricultural labor, he said.
“She’s had a tremendous impact and now she’s doing a lot of humanitarian work,” Gonzales said.
Huerta’s honor from the President comes as the UFW’s 50th anniversary is approaching this year.
“It couldn’t come at a better time for the union, for farm workers, for California,” Gonzales added. “I think it’s a great thing.”
The honor, to be presented this spring, adds to the list of accolades Huerta has received, but Huerta talked about her successs in terms of better working conditions for farm workers, education campaigns and streetlights for poor communities Thursday night.
“I get the recognition for the work of hundreds of other people, of thousand of other people” behind the movements, she said.
Several things stand out for Huerta when she looks at her past. Founding a union that will celebrate half a century this year is one, raising 11 “wonderful children” who survived her activism is another, she said.
At 82, she is excited to talk about the Dolores Huerta Foundation’s work in Tulare County, Arvin, Lamont and Weedpatch and shows no signs of slowing down. She continues to tour the country constantly for speaking engagements that raise money for the foundation while spreading the message of organizing. Huerta spoke Thursday night from Iowa where she had just finished a lecture at Cornell College before heading to another event in San Francisco.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Why don’t you retire, you’ve done some much work all ready?'” Huerta said.
“We just have so much to do so I don’t feel like I can slow down,” she said.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
Source: (c)2012 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)