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Activist Dolores Huerta is the subject of a new documentary, but her fight isn't over yet

by John Horn and The Frame Staff with Lori Galarreta | The Frame

Dolores Huerta at the Delano Strike in 1966. Photo by Jon Lewis, courtesy of LeRoy Chatfield

The new documentary "Dolores" chronicles the life and work of activist and union organizer Dolores Huerta. Along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers union in the 1960s. 

But for years, Huerta didn't get nearly the same recognition that Chavez did for her contributions to the UFW and farm worker rights. 

Just one example: the iconic slogan "Si se puede" (or "Yes we can") is often attributed to Cesar Chavez, but it was actually coined by Huerta.

Now at 87-years-old, Dolores Huerta is finally getting the credit she's due, thanks to a new documentary titled "Dolores." The film, which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is executive produced by the musician Carlos Santana and written and directed by Peter Bratt. It opens nationwide on Sept. 8.

And as evidence that Huerta isn't slowing down yet, she spoke at the at the women’s march that was held at Sundance, preaching a message of solidarity with marches in Washington and across the country:

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Huerta and Bratt in Park City, Utah back in January.

Interview Highlights

Decades ago, you were organizing farmworkers over a variety of issues. How is that work different today?

Huerta: At that time, in the late '60s, early '70s a lot of organizations were just in formation. The Greens were just starting to organize, the LGBT movement was starting to organize, we had the third wave of the women's movement that was coming forward...

So, we have a lot of these organizations that were just being born out of the chaos of the '60s and '70s that are now very strong and they have strong foundations. So, in some respects, we're better equipped right now to be able to withstand whatever comes down in the next four years and to continue organizing to overcome and keep the progressive movement going forward.

You're here as the star of your documentary, but you've always been more interested in the workers, not the people leading the workers. Was it uncomfortable for you to be the subject of this film?

Huerta: If you can take the poorest the most discriminated group of workers in our country that have been maligned for so many decades and yet show how they came together, how they were able to overcome the president of the United States — Richard Nixon, governor of California Ronald Reagan, the most powerful agricultural interest in the state of California — and be able to win their victories of getting the right to organize...

...so this is a message I believe, that I hope people get from this film. If those farmer workers, most of them immigrants, if they can do this without having a formal education, how much more can we do? We who speak the English language, who are citizens, who have formal educations, who have resources — how much more can we do?

There's a lot of amazing archival footage, along with some contemporary interviews. What are the images, documents or interviews that stood out from the past that really illustrated Dolores' story?

Bratt: Dolores and I, we locked horns a little bit because I told her, 'It has to be about you.' And I think Dolores by her nature, she's always focused on others and empowering others, and I think that was difficult for her. But I think you create empathy in people and understand when you focus on the person. 

We knew wanted to tell a compelling, moving story that would inspire people, but at the same time we wanted to create a historical record, because she had been left out... you can actually see her through the decades, and we thought that would be very powerful and very compelling.

How does the current political climate shape the way in which this film will be received and the world into which, it will be released?

Bratt: It was tempting to throw the camera on and say, 'Hey Dolores, let's go back out and get some more footage.' But I think it's really important to emphasize and point out that the struggle in our community for racial justice... it's been going on for 500 years, man...

Huerta: And I just want to say one thing to that. People in our country do not understand how our country was built, and even now with immigrants that are doing all of the heavy work — which is one thing that the movie does show, feeding the nation. So, there's no appreciation, there's no gratitude there, there's no recognition.

So, I think the one thing that may come out of all this is that when we see the ugly face of racism and what it has brought us to in our society, that then, everybody has to say, 'OK, it's time that we end this cancer.'

This interview originally aired on Jan. 23, 2017. The film opens nationwide on Sept. 8.  

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