Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta urged El Paso Community College students to get involved politically to improve the world.

The day  after the César Chávez holiday, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta sat down virtually to speak with El Paso Community Center students.

“El Paso is one of my favorite places in the whole world,” said Huerta, who said she has family who live in the city. 

Crystal Robert, the moderator of the event and a EPCC professor, started the event by asking Huerta her favorite question to be asked. 

“I love to be asked what students can do to build up or strengthen our social justice movement,” Huerta said. 

After saying she has a “big and long answer,” she gave the audience an assignment, the first of three to come. 

“They can cut all the flowers but they can’t hold back spring,” Huerta said, citing a poem by Pablo Neruda. “Spring is almost here and we have a lot of hope that things will change and be better for us.”

Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta talks via Zoom with El Paso Community College students.

Huerta worked alongside Chávez to improve the lives of farmworkers and other Hispanics in the 1960s. She has stayed active politically for decades and is one of the major icons of the Hispanic civil rights movement.

Huerta assigned the audience to write letters to their state’s senators in favor of the pending “For the People Act,” also known as S1. 

“In a lot of the southern and midwestern states, they are trying to change a lot of the voting laws to keep people of color from voting. People like us,” Huerta said. 

At the brink of celebrating her 91st birthday this month, Huerta had a simple answer when asked what keeps her going as an activist: “We have a lot of work to do.” 

“We have so many Latinos and so many people of color in Texas that we can really change Texas to make it better for the people,” Huerta said. 

Standing up to display her T-shirt that read “we vote” in red, white and blue, Huerta stressed the importance of voting and gave her second assignment. 

“I know a lot of people in Texas went through a really hard time when the snow chill happened and you probably didn’t get the help you need,” said Huerta. “We need to change that and register to vote.” 

Huerta said younger people should help others get registered and to the polls.

And with that Huerta announced her second assignment: writing to your state’s senators in favor of the “Equal Rights Amendment,” a proposed change to the Constitution that dates to the 1970s and would ban discrimination based on gender.. 

When asked what advice she had for EPCC students, she told them to stay strong. 

“A lot of times we face discrimination because we’re Latino, but when that happens and we see attacks on our communities, don’t turn that anger into hatred,” Huerta said. 

Huerta reminded the audience that “we are not the haters” and said some people are ignorant. The answer to fighting against that ignorance is to tell your story, Huerta said. 

“Tell them the story of your family, tell them the struggles that your family had to go through,” she said. “It puts a seed in their mind and a seed in their heart and that seed will grow in time.”

Her last assignment of the day was to write a letter to senators in favor of the immigration reform bill. 

“You can put all three assignments in one email,” Huerta laughed. 

When she’s not writing to lawmakers, Huerta said she is focusing on other projects like ending the school-to-prison pipeline and helping to create COVID clinics. 

“We go door to door and give people what they need,” Huerta said in reference to her work with the clinics. 

The more than 80 guests attending the event on Thursday ended with many people unmuting their microphone to wish Huerta an early happy birthday. 

“We thank you for everything you have done for our people and all people,” a guest said. 

Cover photo: Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta urged El Paso Community College students to get involved politically to improve the world.

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, through a partnership with Open Campus Media. She is a 2020 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.