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Dolores Huerta on 'Dolores'
March 27, 2018  | By Roger Catlin

When Lois Vossen, executive producer of Independent Lens (Tuesday 9:00 p.m., PBS, check local listings) was growing up in Minnesota, she had a direct connection to the subject of Dolores but didn’t know it.

“Fifty years ago I stopped eating grapes to support a boycott thousands of miles away,” Vossen told reporters earlier this year. “I didn’t really know why then, but to be a part of Dolores’s world now is pretty phenomenal.”

Dolores, by filmmaker Peter Bratt, tells the story of activist Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez, who went on to keep fighting for social causes even into her ninth decade.

Indeed, Huerta at 87 preceded her session at the TV Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles with a three-mile march for civil rights.

And now her story is part of Women’s History Month on public television.

“Growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s, that I think everybody just assumed that, you know, men always had to take the leading role,” Huerta said. “I remember when we started the union, Cesar said to me, ‘Well, you know, one of us has to be the spokesperson. Is it okay if it’s me?’ And I said of course.  And looking back, I think I would have said, ‘You know what, let’s go 50/50 on that one.’”

Overcoming fear was key to her career in activism, Huerta said.

“One of the things that really holds everybody back from getting engaged, is when people are afraid, or they think that their voices don’t count, or that they can’t make a difference,” she said.

“I realized once I overcame my fear that I couldn’t do this, or I couldn’t do that, that I was really able to accomplish and also empower other people to teach them that they could overcome their fears also. No matter how many personal issues one has in one’s life, everybody has personal problems. But once you get engaged in helping other people, your personal issues really get diminished.”

Huerta said she grew up shy which is surprising because she was able to get the courage to leave her job as a school teacher with a safe, secure position, in order to go down and organize farmworkers. There was no kind of an income at that time with seven children.

“Everybody told me I was crazy,” Huerta said. “How could I even be thinking of doing that? What was going to happen to my children?”

And that part of it did hurt, she said.

“It was painful,” Huerta said. And the film may not show all her children and their sacrifice. “As my son Ricky said, ‘You know, we had to share the world with our mother, but my mother shared the world with us.’”

Huerta said she took solace in the fact she was improving the impoverished lives of farm workers.

As difficult as it was to squeeze into the film all the accomplishments of Huerta in dozens of issues, that earned her place as the first Latina in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, filmmaker Bratt said, “I think the biggest challenge was getting Dolores to agree to be the subject of the film in the first place.

“She wanted to see a film about organizing, and we said, Well, it’s going to be about organizing, but it’s going to be through your lens,” he said.

I asked whether she found the attention from the film flattering, or just something necessary to help publicize the issues she felt strongly about.

“Well, at the same time flattering, but it’s also very humbling,” Huerta said. And she returned to the subject of motherhood.

“In terms of the children, mothers go through this every single day,” she said. “Every working mother has to worry about who’s going to take care of her children. And speaking to the fact that we do not have a good daycare educational system for our children, which other countries have, and we want women to get involved in political and civic life. It’s really hard for them to do it because they have to worry about the children.

“This is a pressing issue for all of our country, and I guess for fathers also. I think it’s something we really have to put on the agenda that we have to fight for, to have preschool and early education for our children.

“For myself, if I can, with this film and then my presence, get more people involved in our civic life, in our country, which I think it’s something we have to take full responsibility for, then I think that it’s worth it. “

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