LATINO VOICES

Dolores Huerta On The Erasure Of Women And People Of Color From History

The activist also spoke about hashtag activism, abortion rights and her hopes for a people's march on Washington, D.C.

09/19/2017 12:48 EDT
courtesy of PBS Distribution
Dolores Huerta organizing marchers in 1969. 

Dolores Huerta refuses to be written out of history.

The 87-year-old labor activist played a crucial role in the 1960s labor movement and co-founded the United Farm Workers union ― but many believe Huerta doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for her work.

“Dolores,” a biopic based on Huerta’s life and activism, is hoping to change that.

The film, directed by Peter Bratt and executive produced by Carlos Santana, highlights Huerta’s significant contributions to the labor movement and the personal sacrifices she made along the way.

Huerta and Bratt recently spoke to HuffPost about the film, the issue with erasing women from history, what social movements today need to succeed and why Huerta changed her views on abortion and feminism over time. 

HuffPost: Dolores has been an icon and activist for decades. Peter, why do a biopic now?

Peter Bratt: The world is in need of feminine power. I think [Carlos Santana] picked up on that somehow and he called and he said, “We need to tell this story right now.” Of course, that was four and a half years ago. We could not foresee where we’d be today. I mean, it’s uncanny how relevant and urgent Dolores’ story and work is right now.

The biopic also tackles head-on the notion of women, and Dolores specifically, being erased out of history. Why was it so important to drive that point home? 

Dolores Huerta: I think it’s important for women to be recognized in history for [the sake of] other women, especially young women. But it’s not only when it comes to women. Also, when people of color are left out of history. Then we see the racism that we’re looking at today, we see the misogyny, homophobia and all that. And that’s because our histories are not being told, they are not included in our school books. So then what happens is that people will grow up ignorant of the contributions of people of color or of women or of the LGBT community, of labor unions, etc. We have this abysmal ignorance of women inside America. I think that it’s not only important for women but it’s important for our whole society that our stories be told and that our victories and our achievements can be recorded in history.

Peter: We are trying to broaden the narrative so that the white voice is not the sole voice of this country. It’s a complex, rich, beautiful history and diversity is nothing to fear. I think Dolores is absolutely right, we need to bring those stories to the foreground. And if we do that I think there will be less ignorance.

courtesy of PBS Distribution
The "Dolores" film poster.

The film also makes a strong case for solidarity among social political movements. Dolores, as someone who lived the collaborative spirit of the civil rights movement, what do you feel movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March need to do to succeed?

Dolores: Somehow, we’ve got to get all those people that were in those demonstrations and marches to come back to the community and to organize, and also to engage in voting, and to participate in campaigns. Because at the end of the day, it’s the people that are elected that are going to change the policies. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t march, I think marches are great because they publicize what we’re doing, they energize people ― but then you’ve got to take that power and take it to the ballot box.

We have this abysmal ignorance of women inside America." Dolores Huerta

The other thing I would love to see is a people’s march. Just the way that Dr. King was planning before he passed away. We can get the feminist groups, we can get the labor unions and Black Lives Matter, our LGBT community, other professions marching at one time in Washington, D.C. I think that’s what we need to do to wake up our president, to make him understand that the kind of actions that he’s taking are wrong. I know it’s important for people to be identified, and to have their numbers identified, like in the Women’s March. But I think in order to really challenge what’s going on today, we’ve got to be totally unified.

There’s plenty today’s activists can take away from your story, Dolores. But today activists also count on something you didn’t: social media. What are your thoughts about social media, or so-called hashtag activism, as a form of resistance?

Dolores: Well, I think it’s extremely important, because number one, you have information. People can be informed on the different issues. Some people get that information right away and it can help to mobilize people. But again, under all that activity, you gotta have some strong organizing going on because if we don’t have strong organization, and, again, if people don’t vote, then you don’t make any changes.

Political tensions are certainly at an all-time high, but more palpable are the rising racial tensions across the country. Peter, with this film, you certainly pointed out how much and how little has changed over time ― did you expect to see so many parallels when this started four years ago?

Peter: Certainly we couldn’t foresee Trump being elected, and I certainly couldn’t foresee a bunch of white dudes marching in the street with KKK hoodies and swastikas and torches; that was kind of beyond my imagination. But ... when I [first] saw the footage of the San Francisco beating of Dolores, where she was almost killed, and also the beatings of other demonstrators, particularly African-American women, the Black Lives Matter movement was already erupting. When I saw that footage I was like, “Oh, my God.”

How about you, Dolores? Any thoughts on the topic? 

Dolores: Because the racism now is normal and it’s visible and they’ve taken off the hoods, as they say ― then I think we can see it and identify it as it’s coming upon us, to know what to do so we can end it. I do believe, though, that after this is over, that we are going to come out stronger. Just like we did in the ’60s and ’70s, we had Nixon, we had Reagan and we came out stronger. And we did make advances.

But again, the thing I really want to stress is in 2018, we’re going to have congressional elections. Everybody that’s marching out there, just come to the ballot box. I’d like to say to Latinos, so many millions of Latinos can vote, but they don’t register to vote. Many are registered, and they still don’t vote. And then we have another few million that are eligible to become citizens of the United States, and haven’t done so. Now is the time, if you don’t do it now, you’re really turning your back on your own people.

courtesy of PBS Distribution
"Dolores" is a film based on Huerta's work and life. 

And the UFW succeeded by helping the Mexican-American community and laborers essentially find their voice and power.

Peter: They went out and registered people at the door for [Robert F.] Kennedy. It was phenomenal.

Dolores: Well, even before that, one of the laws that I passed as a political director was the right to register voters door-to-door. Because before in California, you had to go down to the courthouse, which was Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. And if you didn’t do that, if someone was a deputy registrar, and you could find that deputy, then you could register to vote. So you know what? We changed that.

You cannot have a priest or a minister telling you how to run your life or your family or your body." Dolores Huerta

In Texas, they still have the same type of voting that we had in California over 50 years ago. So when people wonder, 50 percent of the population in Texas are Latinos, and yet you have such regressive and conservative politician[s]. Why is that happening? I say, it’s because people cannot even register to vote in the first place.

On a different note, one of the moments that really stuck with me in the film was when Gloria Steinem said you were once hesitant to call yourself a feminist because of your views on abortion. What do you think about people who currently view abortion rights as a point of political and social contention?  

Dolores: If we think of the Latinos, for instance, who voted for Trump, the ones that I know of voted for Trump because of the abortion issue. So I think that’s one thing that we have to confront head-on. We don’t want to go against the church but when we think about the church, remember they outlawed divorce, they outlawed birth control, they thought the world was flat [laughs]. We don’t have to go by the dictates of religion. We have to think about ourselves first.

We do have to step up and say, “Yeah, a woman has got to have the right to have an abortion.” That is their individual right and a family’s right also. Benito Juarez said, “Respect for another’s right, is peace.” If somebody wants to have an abortion, it’s none of your business. If someone wants to marry somebody of their own sex, that’s their business. It’s none of your business. You cannot have a priest or a minister telling you how to run your life or your family or your body.

Peter: One thing I learned from Dolores in this process of making this film was that men can be feminists. And that a feminist is also somebody who stands up not just for women’s rights, but for immigrant rights, black lives, labor, environment, you name it.

Dolores: And all these people who have issues with having an abortion, what do they do for children? Even the church, what does the church do to help us raise our children? Do they provide infant centers? Do they provide resources for our teenagers? [Abortion is] a social issue that they like to focus on and it’s divisive, and it’s the only reason that they do it. The only reason they attack women, the only reason they attack the LGBT community, it’s just to be divisive.

For more information on where to watch “Dolores,” go to DoloresTheMovie.com.