Interview with an Icon: Dolores Huerta on Cesar Chavez

As the President of The Dolores Huerta Foundation and Co-founder of United Farm Workers of America along with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta is a living legend. She is treasured by the Latino community, but she is also internationally recognized for her role in promoting social justice. We chatted with her about her partnership with another icon of social justice: Cesar Chavez:

You’re a hero to so many people. Who are some of your personal heroes?

I’d have to say Fred Ross Sr. [a community organizer from California who recruited a young Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez to the Community Service Organization in the 1950s], my spiritual godfather. He was the one who showed me the way.  

What’s the quality that you most admired in Cesar Chavez?

His courage and intelligence. He was his own man.

You’ve endured arrests, beatings, and more. In your darkest hour, what gave you hope?

I have to quote Cesar on this one: “You’ll always win if you don’t quit.” Think of the great movements like the women’s movement and the civil rights movement and the years that it took to make all of that happen.

A lot of people don’t know this, but you’re the one who started the phrase “Si Se Puede,” not Cesar Chavez. How it was born?

Cesar was doing a 25-day, water-only community fast in Arizona and we were trying to organize people to come and join him. When I went to rally people, the workers said to me, “Dolores, you guys can do what you want in California, but here it is too difficult. Aqui, no se puede.” By the way, they had passed a law in Arizona that made it illegal for farm workers to go on strike. If you even said the word ‘boycott’ you could go to prison. So my spontaneous response was, “Si, si se puede en Arizona.” So that night when I went to give the report to the organizers and I told them what I said, everybody jumped to their feet and started chanting, “Si Se Puede! Si Se Puede!” It’s been our motto since 1972. And now it’s everywhere—even our president used it!