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‘The power is in our person:’ Civil rights veteran Dolores Huerta spoke at IU Thursday



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Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta smiles as the audience applauds during her address Sept. 19 at Franklin Hall. Huerta is an active American labor leader known for her work with civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. Joy Burton Buy Photos

A month ago, civil rights veteran Dolores Huerta was arrested for protesting the wages of home care workers with a labor union in California.

On Thursday, Huerta shared her experience as an educator, organizer, feminist and activist to a crowd of about 500 people. The event was one of many in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

IU professor Sylvia Martinez introduced Huerta. 

“As The Latino Studies Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it really provides an opportunity to celebrate well-known historical movements, but also on occasion, to unearth untold stories,” Martinez said.

Huerta co-founded historical organizations such as the Community Service Organization and the National Farm Workers Association. From 1946-1964, Huerta lobbied to secure legislative protections for Latinas and Latinos, passing at least 15 bills into law.

By visiting colleges across the country, Huerta said she empowers young students to continue the fight for race, gender and class equity. Huerta said change starts with grassroots organization, education that recognizes the history of marginalized groups and voting. 

“Unfortunately, in our educational system, we have never taught the real history of the United States of America,” said Huerta. "We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us."

The crowd was diverse in race, ethnicity and age. It consisted of students, faculty and community members of Bloomington and surrounding areas. Huerta’s visit was organized by the IU Latino Studies Program and La Casa Latino Cultural Center.  

Bloomington resident Natalia Galvan brought her father’s shirt, which he wore while working alongside César Chávez in the 1970s. Chávez was an activist and president of the United Farm Workers union. Dolores Huerta signed it for Galvanduring the event.

“I have always admired and respected the work she’s done,” said community member Debbie Malone.

In 2012, Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor. She also holds nine honorary doctorates from academic institutions across the country.

The event ended with Huerta leading a chant used in her own protests: “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power! What kind of power? People power!”

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