Dolores Huerta, who has dedicated a half-century to social activism, urged Saint Mary's students to fight for the rights of working people during a Sept. 20 presentation on campus to honor Latino Heritage Month.
"We all have got to fight to make social justice a way of life," Huerta said. "Poor people have power too. Working people have power. We have our hands and our presence."
Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association, the predecessor to the United Farm Workers Association, with Cesar Chavez in 1962, and helped many farmers gain better rights through various protests and strikes. Her efforts have landed her in jail 22 times.
Through her work, she has developed powerful opinions about the America she lives in and works to improve. During her campus visit, she shared her views on issues ranging from immigrants' rights to feminism.
"We need to remind everyone that everyone who is here in America, other than the Native Americans, is an immigrant," Huerta said to the crowd of more than 200. "The immigrants are doing hard work, paying taxes and hoping that next election will get some of the anti-immigrant people out of office."
A mother of 11, Huerta continues to work on issues across the nation, but she focuses on the rights of Californians.
"Next year the minimum wage in California will go up to $8 an hour," Huerta said. "That's good, but if minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living increases over the last fifty years it would be around $20 an hour here. There are CEOs of major corporations that make 500 times the average employee."
Huerta cited economic colonization as a major reason so many Latin Americans are forced to immigrate to the United States as she detailed the racial discrepancies in the American government.
"People move here out of necessity," Huerta said. "They don't leave these vacation-type places because they want to. There's no way for the small businessman to compete in Latin America."
The passion that has made Huerta one of the most important social activists of the last 50 years is still evident today. She pleaded for the audience to get more involved in the upcoming elections.
"The only way to cause change is by working together and making the commitment to a cause," Huerta said. "We need to give America a wake-up call."
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