As a young Latina growing up in the U.S. Southwest, Dolores Huerta heard people shout, “Go back to Mexico!” In fact, her mother’s great-grandfather was a New Yorker who fought in the Civil War. “They say we’re the newcomers,” she says, “but we’ve been here a long time.” Huerta’s entire life, however, would be devoted to ensuring equity for newcomers and vulnerable populations, like farm workers of California’s Central Valley. Some farm workers came from countries outside the U.S., including Mexico and the Philippines. Others were Puerto Rican, Mexican Americans, Black American, and white American workers.
They labored in the fields for 50 cents an hour, often without toilets or even water to drink. Huerta explains that, like today, in the 1940s and ’50s, Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants faced racial profiling, harassment from police, labor expolitation, and discrimination in their everyday lives. Many began to expect—and in some cases accept—this consistent racism as part of their everyday lives. When she and César Chávez founded the National Farmer Workers Union in 1962, they fought for a better quality of life and equity.