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'Dolores' Focuses On Life Of Labor And Civil Rights Leader Dolores Huerta


Now, if you follow the history of the civil rights movement, then Dolores Huerta is a name that you likely know. She was one of the co-founders of the group that became the United Farm Workers working with the late Cesar Chavez. After more than six decades of activism, she's still going at 86 years old. Yesterday, she took part in one of the many women's marches around the country in reaction to the inauguration of Donald Trump and his policies.

Although Dolores Huerta has been a prominent figure in the civil rights struggles going back decades, now there is a documentary that seeks to tell her story anew and to cement her place in this country's civil rights and labor history. In it, we hear from famous feminists voices such as Hillary Clinton and Angela Davis, but we also get a glimpse of just what has made Dolores Huerta a legend among activists.


DAVID ROBERTI: She's indefatigable. She's unorthodox. You know, Dolores will bring in hundreds of people who will camp outside your office. So when Dolores is in Sacramento, everybody knows she's in Sacramento.

MARTIN: That's former California State Senator David Roberti talking about Dolores Huerta in the new documentary about her. It's called appropriately enough "Dolores." It was written, produced and directed by Peter Bratt. And the film premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. And that's where we caught up with Dolores Huerta. I started by asking her about what message she had for those who took part in the Park City women's march.

DOLORES HUERTA: Well, my message was that we have to get back down to basics. We have to start organizing at the neighborhood level to get people educated to vote. There's just so many facets, I think, of the ignorance in our society that have to be corrected if we're really going to have a democratic society and a society that is just and that respects all of the members of this society regardless of who they are, what color they may be, what sexual orientation that they have or what gender, you know, they happen to be.

MARTIN: I mentioned earlier that the documentary is written and directed and produced by Peter Bratt, but it's executive produced by the music icon Carlos Santana. And in the sort of background notes for the film, Peter Bratt describes getting a phone call from Carlos Santana saying we have to make a film about Dolores. The suggestion was that the filmmakers felt that your role in the building of the farm workers' movement had not been given adequate attention. The role of women in general on the struggle for farm workers' rights had not been given its due. Do you feel that way?

D. HUERTA: Well, I do believe they call it his story - history. And so, you know, that's, I think, the case of many aspects of the civil rights movement where men were really given most of the attention of the work that was being done, even though we had very many women that were at the forefront of the struggle and at the forefront of the movement.

So it's not just the history of the farm workers' movement. It's the history of our United States of America and general history of many, many organizations. And so a women's place in history has never been given the attention that it needs to be given, and, again, that's why we have a lot of the misogyny in our society today.

MARTIN: Well, but I'm going to keep going back to you Dolores because the film was about you. And you know what else though? It also talks a lot about the personal costs of having dedicated yourself so wholeheartedly to organizing. And, you know, I want to mention here that you have 11 kids, and a number of them are interviewed in the film. And I just want to play a quick cut of a couple of your kids as they reflect on their childhood. And here it is.


EMILIO HUERTA: It was very hard. I'll be honest with you, tough.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The movement became her most important child. I realize the importance of the work, but I was also very jealous of it. So there's scars there. You know, there's scars there.

MARTIN: Did you know that?

D. HUERTA: Oh, of course. Those are the choices, unfortunately, that women have to make, and hopefully some day we'll have adequate day care, so that more women can get involved in movements. And I just want to say to mothers out there in the world that might hear that my children grew up very resourceful and strong in spite of them having to live with different families and that I had to drag them all over the country with me.

And I want to say to mothers out there, you know, take your children to marches. Take them to meetings because this is a way that they can become strong, and they understand what politics is all about because they are actually living it. And so there are, of course, regrets that my children did have to make so many sacrifices, but at the end of the day, they turned out great.

MARTIN: (Laughter) How do you like the film? Do you like the film? As I mentioned, you obviously have trouble talking about yourself, so I'm betting that maybe this process of having this film made about you was, perhaps, a little bit more painful than some might have imagined. But do you like it? And do you hope that people see it? And when they see it, what do you hope they'll see?

D. HUERTA: Yeah. Well, I hope that people do like the film. I hope that this movie will inspire people when they see that farm workers who were the most discriminated and the most poverty-stricken people in our country, you know, had the courage to stand up and to fight for their rights, to organize. That way we'll inspire other people to say, hey, if those poorest of the poor could do it, then maybe we could do something great also.

MARTIN: That is Dolores Huerta. She's a lifelong organizer and activist. There's a new documentary about her called "Dolores." It premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. And she was nice enough to speak to us from there. Dolores Huerta, thank you so much for speaking with us.

D. HUERTA: And thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.