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Comment minimized the life of civil rights leader

Comment minimized the life of civil rights leader

The Arizona Capitol Times made a mistake last week that caused confusion for many readers and minimized the life work of a tireless leader of the labor movement.

A story that referred to Dolores Huerta should have contained a fairer and more accurate description of her work as a community organizer who has spent decades fighting for the rights of farm workers and immigrants. Instead, the story relied upon an unverified statement by Tom Horne.

Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, was testifying to the House Education Committee on Feb. 15 when he made a comment that reduced the life work of Delores Huerta into a trivial sound bite.

The Capitol Times repeated Horne’s comment on page 8 of the Feb. 19 edition. The mistake was regrettable, and it’s not worth repeating here. It’s more important to set the record straight.

Huerta’s work with the late Cesar Chávez to form the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 provides a glimpse at her life as a labor-rights activist, but she has been involved in numerous causes in addition to her work to organize farm workers.

Her political successes go back to 1960, when she worked to help pass a law in California that permitted people to take the driver’s examination in Spanish. She later worked to pass a law that ended the Bracero program, which brought contract laborers to the U.S. from Mexico.

Huerta is credited with coining the phrase “Si, se puede,” which means “Yes, we can.”

Huerta runs the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on community organizing and fighting for policies that benefit workers, immigrants, families, women and youth.

The 79-year-old has been arrested numerous times for participating in civil disobedience activities, and she was beaten with police batons in 1988 during a protest in San Francisco. The beating caused five broken ribs, the loss of her spleen and other injuries. When Huerta won a settlement with the San Francisco Police Department, she reportedly gave the money to organizations that assist farm workers.

Huerta is married to Cesar Chávez’ brother, Richard Chávez. She has 11 children.

Those who know Huerta describe her as a resolute and tough woman who doesn’t mince words. She certainly didn’t hold back when she spoke to Tucson high school students in 2006 and declared that “Republicans hate Latinos.” Her statement attracted criticism from students, parents, teachers, lawmakers and, most of all, Republicans.

The speech also started a movement to pass a state law to ban controversial speakers in public schools. Although that idea never became law, lawmakers have proposed an alternative this year.

H2281, the bill that Horne was talking about when he brought up Huerta, would ban classes that promote hatred against a specific race or promote the overthrow of the U.S. government. The bill passed unanimously, but before it did, Horne made the disrespectful comment about Huerta’s relationship with Cesar Chávez.

Huerta has a lot of critics, and some people downright disagree with everything she stands for. But, to many others, she is an iconic figure who has endured decades of struggle to improve the lives of disadvantaged people.

Horne, obviously, is free to say what’s on his mind, but the Arizona Capitol Times shouldn’t have repeated it. At the very least, it minimized the life of a woman who has devoted her life to bringing about changes that she believes in.

  1. Roberto Rodriguez
    Roberto Rodriguez02-23-2010

    The irony is that if H2281 were in effect, the state superintendent who uttered these words would have already lost his job… not simply for his ignorant comments against Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, but for mounting a relentless campaign against the teaching of raza Studies — a most exemplary program that at its core, teaches that we are all one — that we are all uman beings who deserved to be treated as such. Again, what irony.

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