Yes Workers, We Can

Dolores Huerta Speaks at Cal State LA in Honor of CLS’s 50th Anniversary

Anthony Karambelas, Writer

“Si, se puede! Si, se puede! Don’t be afraid to shout!” she proclaimed. “Your education only makes you louder!” On Sept. 6, the Chicano & Latino Studies Department hosted a talk by Dolores Huerta, who alongside Cesar Chavez, has become something of a household name among Californians, farmworkers, and clearly, Cal State LA.
To say the room was packed would be an understatement. The turnout echoed age-old accounts of packed churches in the ‘60s, where anxious attendees would flock to hear the likes of Dr. King and Malcolm X. In the Golden Eagle Ballroom, it was standing room only for late arrivals, who lined along the already crowded walls of the space.
Believe it or not, there was even an overflow room.
Huerta was met with a standing ovation upon her arrival, a small repayment for the gift of the National Farm Workers Association. Today, over 10,000 migrant workers owe their prosperity to the union she co-founded fifty-six years ago, a security blanket for the thousands of disenfranchised braceros in California.
From the start, Huerta had her work cut out for her. If you look at the unending slew of worker’s rights violations experienced by farmworkers in the ‘40s and ‘50s—no portable field toilets, segregated temporary housing, abysmally low wages—it’s impossible to imagine how far we are today.
Even Huerta will say, the change didn’t happen solely on her watch. She recounted the mentorship she received from Fred Ross—a “gringo,” she noted with a chuckle—who was himself in fervent opposition to the idea that Mexicans were a “problem.”
Now, as farm workers enjoy their union and the CLS department at Cal State LA celebrates its fiftieth year of pioneering the previously uncharted territory of ethnic studies, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that our work is all behind us. In Huerta’s mind, it’s just getting started.
Nothing escaped the vice of Huerta’s lecture, not even national politics. She encouraged all attendees to call their senators about Brett Kavanaugh and to support the faithful executors of democracy. And of course, the talk wouldn’t have been complete without some tasteful administration bashing.
If there was one takeaway from Huerta, it would be this: change doesn’t happen overnight, which is why we need to get active now.
More information on Huerta can be found by viewing Dolores, a historical documentary based on her life work and incredible influence on California’s economy.