Latina civil rights icon: Woman in White House, not Hispanic

Dolores Huerta visits Miami to campaign for Hillary Clinton


MIAMI – If civil rights activist César Chávez were alive, he would not vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders, fellow activist Dolores Huerta said Wednesday. 

Huerta said his son, Fernando Chávez, who has a law practice office in Miami's Brickell, doesn't plan to vote for him either. Before talking to Local 10 News, Huerta was on Univision's Despierta America, a national morning show in Spanish, to say that she is supporting the Democratic front-runner. 

It was, after all, her "Si Se Puede" anthem that helped President Barack Obama rally the Latino community even when she was supporting his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Although she supports Sanders' ideals, she said, he needs a "magic wand" without the support of the U.S. Congress.

"We don't need a revolution," the former president of the United Farm Workers union said. "We need an evolution."

The 85-year-old iconic activist remembers when Clinton helped to register Latino voters in south Texas, along the Rio Grande Valley in 1972. She also remembers when Sanders voted against a comprehensive immigration reform overhaul bill in 2007, after the powerful immigration marches of 2006. 

Sanders "was not paying attention," Huertas said. 

The Vermont senator, who was campaigning for Florida's 99 delegate votes in Kissimmee, addressed the issue earlier this year during a CNN en Español debate. He said that although he supports immigration reform, he disagreed with the bill's guest-worker provisions. 

"Guest workers are coming in. They are working under terrible conditions, but if they stand up for their rights, they are thrown out of the country," Sanders said. "I was not he only progressive to vote against the legislation for that reason. Tom Harkin, a very good friend of Hillary Clinton's and mine, one of the leading labor advocates, also voted against that."

Latinos must help Clinton beat Donald Trump -- the leading Republican in the primaries who described Mexicans as drug-traffickers and rapists and promised to make Mexico build a border wall -- or his rival Sen. Ted Cruz, Huerta said. She won't be voting for Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio, she said.

"They may have the last name, but they have Trump's values and ideologies," Huerta said. 

To beat Trump, she said, Latinos are rushing to become naturalized citizens in time to vote in November. Naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before and the pace was picking up by the week, according to advocates and figures reported by the New York Times

She has long despised Republicans. In 1988, she nearly died while protesting against then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush. San Francisco police beat her so badly she suffered six broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. Rubio and Cruz aren't fighting for the rights of undocumented farm workers or students. 

Huerta was concerned about young Latino voters, who are not registered to vote and have grown apathetic of the process. She had a message for young Latinos in South Florida: "If you don't know all of the candidates, just vote for the people who are going to help us with immigration reform and equal pay."

Huerta said her activism began when she was working as a teacher and realized something needed to be done about her students' growing up in poverty. She started her activism in grass-roots groups. She worked for the Community Services Organization, where she met Chávez.

Huerta, Chávez and Gilbert Padilla made history when they co-founded the Farm Workers Association, a farm workers union, in 1962. Their first battle was against Coachella Valley grape growers.

Huerta said Chavez was the speaker and she was the negotiator. Their path to a historic agreement with some 26 grape growers was documented in the 2014 film "Cesar Chavez: History is Made One Step at a Time." Rosario Dawson embodied the legendary Huerta. 

Huerta went on to coordinate the lettuce boycott that lead to the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law recognizing the rights of farm workers to bargain collectively. 

"Even if you don't have money, you have power," Huerta said. 

She has received multiple awards, including the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award and the Putffin Foundation/Nation Institute Award for Creative Citizenship, which helped her create her foundation.

Despite her sacrifices and accomplishments, not all Latinos love and admire the labor leader. Ruben Navarrette Jr., a political communist, is not a fan. In a column he wrote for The Daily Beast, Navarrette said Huerta's support of Clinton as she works with People for the American Way, a Washington, D.C., organization, is a "betrayal of the Latino community." 

The organization, Navarrette said, "has never shown the slightest interest in Latinos" and now with the presidential election was using Huerta's celebrity status and immigration fears "to influence Latino voters."

That was not the feeling Thursday in South Florida, as local labor activists gathered around the influential "abuelita" with the commanding voice at the University of Miami's Chapel of the Venerable Bede in Coral Gables.

Rubio and Cruz are "traidores," which is Spanish for traitors, Huerta said. They nodded in agreement. 

About the Author: