Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

March 25, 2008

Latino rights icon Dolores Huerta to speak at NIU

DeKalb, Ill. — Prominent Latino rights leader Dolores Huerta, who with Cesar Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers union, will visit NIU next month to speak on the labor movement, civic engagement and the importance of the Latino vote in the upcoming election.

Huerta will deliver an address titled, “The Need for Social Change: From the Fight in the Fields to the Halls of Congress,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center. The event is open to the public.

“She's the most prominent Chicana labor leader, a seminal figure in Latino history in the United States,” said Emily Prieto, director of the NIU Latino Resource Center, which is sponsoring the presentation along with the Women's Center and other groups on campus.

“She's amazing, very articulate and powerful,” Prieto added. “I think Dolores will inspire our students to learn more about their histories and to become more politically involved. She delivers a message of hope that focuses on the need to be involved and engaged. She's a true hero.”

Huerta began her career as an elementary schoolteacher but left the profession to join the labor movement. Today she is among the nation's most powerful labor union leaders, having founded the United Farm Workers with Chavez in 1962. She worked with Chavez for more than 30 years until his death in 1993.

Earlier, in 1955, she had become a founding member of the Sacramento chapter of the Community Service Organization, which battled segregation and police brutality, led voter registration drives, pushed for improved public services in Latino communities throughout California and fought to enact new legislation.

Her many accomplishments include:

  • Negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement between farm workers and an agricultural enterprise.
  • Leading a national grape boycott, taking the plight of the farm workers to the consumers.
  • Advancing legislation that allowed the right to vote in Spanish, and the right of individuals to take the drivers license examination in their native language.
  • Playing a key role in obtaining the removal of citizenship requirements from pension and public assistance programs for legal residents of the United States.
  • Helping to secure unemployment benefits for farm workers.

The mother of 11 children, Huerta also has been arrested more than 20 times for participation in civil disobedience protests. In 1988, she was beaten and seriously injured by police officers during a non-violent protest in San Francisco. She later won a judgment related to the beating and used proceeds to benefit farm workers.

Huerta's work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the United States Presidential Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Clinton. In 2002 she received the Nation/Puffin Award for Creative Citizenship, which included a substantial grant. She used the funds to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation's Organizing Institute, focusing on community organizing and leadership training in low-income under-represented communities.