Even at 89 years of age, legendary farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta is still planting the seed for change in newer generations that no longer do the back-breaking work of their parents or grandparents.
“I know you have been so academically prepared, but now I am going to ask you to be civically prepared,” Huerta told Stanislaus State graduates last Thursday morning from the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
“In the critical time we are living in, we need warriors for justice,” said Huerta, a schoolteacher in Stockton before she joined César E. Chávez in forming the United Farm Workers in the early 1960s.
In her 21-minute speech, Huerta spoke about income inequality, health care for all, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, immigration reform, the upcoming census, climate change and other issues.
“As you go into this world, think about all these issues that were created without your knowledge,” said Huerta, the commencement keynote speaker.
Huerta, who founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield to support equality and fight for social rights, mixed humor with pointed language in making her points.
Health care: “Why can we not have universal health care like they do in other countries? If the poorest countries (Cuba and other Latin American nations) in the world can have free health care, why cannot we, the richest country in the world, not have it?” The response from graduates, their families and supporters was loud applause.
Civil rights: “Back in the 60s and 70s, we had a cultural revolution. We had many things that were happening where women were fighting for their rights. We started the whole environmental movement, the civil rights movement. Most of those gains are being pushed back. That means we have to be more than prepared.” More applause.
Immigration: “Some of the things going on, like immigrants being kept in cages on the border, or young immigrants dieing … what are our policies doing to make people come to our borders?
Huerta called on the graduates to live up to their school mascot and be warriors.
“This is the lesson that we as warriors have to have. Who is going to confront these issues that we are talking about? Who is going to bring justice to the United States?” she asked.
“There is only one group of people that can do it, and that is us!”
Huerta slightly rewrote a quote by Loretta Scott King to make her point.
“We will never have peace in the world until feminists take power,” said Huerta, substituting ‘women’ with ‘feminists.’ “The Warrior men here, you are also feminists.
“A feminist is somebody who will stand up for worker rights, for women’s reproductive rights, for immigrant rights, who cares about climate change, who cares about LGBT rights.”
Huerta asked the class of 2019 to support legislation that will generate $11 billion for education by raising taxes on the wealthy and rich corporations.
She also asked the graduates to make sure their communities are aware of the census and the importance of making every person count (ever uncounted person results in a loss of $15,000 annually in federal funds that go to their community, she said).
Huerta also lobbied for ethnic studies in school.
“We need to teach about the contributions of people of color to the United States of America,” she said. “African slaves built the White House. Immigrants from México, China and India built the infrastructure of this country.
“We need to teach that in our school system so that your children will have the dignity they deserve.”
Huerta told the graduates they “have the power to right the wrongs and make changes.”
University President Junn gave the graduates three “short and simple messages.”
“Live in the moment to create a lifetime of positive memories; think about how you will share your compelling personal story; and, remember to show gratitude daily,” said Junn.
But first, she used a selfie stick to stream live on Facebook the graduates assembled in front of her in the outdoors amphitheater.
“So, go out there, be triumphant, and tell your story! Charge ahead, shake up the world, and continue to make us proud! You have our support and love!” said Junn. “Congratulations, rock on, and bravo!”