Dolores Huerta’s soft spoken demeanor on stage easily hid the historical trajectory she’s paved after nearly five decades of social justice organizing. Huerta attended early screenings of Dolores, the documentary that has captured her legacy, at the Mayan Theater on Sep. 29.
“My hope is that people might now see Dolores’ story as part of their own, one that perhaps allows them to more fully, more honestly, understand the last 50 years in America’s history,” said Peter Bratt, the film’s director.
Bratt directed the documentary after he received a call by rock music icon Carlos Santana. Santana urged him to make a film about Huerta while she was still alive, who turned 87 this past spring.
“Dolores reminds me of my mom. She’s a union organizer and a janitor. She works, cooks, cleans and protests in the streets,” student attendee Alejandro Flores said.
Flores attended the film looking for a safe space to celebrate the struggle and find inspiration. He wore a button on his blazer that read “undocumented and afraid” to the screening, where he knew he would be safe.
The theater was filled with students, teachers, families and individuals like Flores who all wanted to share space with the legendary Huerta. The room cheered as the lights went down and the opening credits of the film rolled. The audience sighed and groaned throughout the film as Huerta’s story unfolded.
It exposed moments of violence, sexism and police brutality she survived. For dedicating her life to organizing, Huerta was falsely accused of child neglect and immoral behavior. Emilio Huerta, one of her children, understood what it meant to have a mother who was also committed to the movement.
“We knew our mother didn’t belong to us,” he said during the film.
One incident left Huerta with three broken ribs. Her spleen was surgically removed. All of her 11 children came to her bedside at the hospital to support her.
Bratt said the process of documenting Huerta revealed a woman that is both heroic and flawed. After interviewing farm workers, scholars, politicians, historians and 10 of her 11 biological children, he came to one conclusion.
“Her erasure from the historical record was deliberate,” Bratt said.
Huerta knows the power of stories. That’s why when Briana Mesa, dean of instruction at McAuliffe Manual Middle School, asked what her advice to young people was, Huerta simply said ‘stories.’ Mesa and social studies teacher Sarah Frederick together brought two rows of 7th graders from leadership development classes to view the film.
“We actively teach students to develop their leadership skills,” Mesa said.
Huerta told the students to keep sharing their stories and told them to learn about other young people in history like Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American male who was brutally murdered by a lynch mob in 1955.
“Tell your story. They can help us eliminate the racism that we have right now in our society. Because when people hear our stories then it helps people understand what you are going through,” Huerta said.
After five decades, Huerta continues to capture people with her unrelenting call for justice. She asked the room to participate in a call-and-response toward the end of her presentation.
“I want you to shout it really loud so all the Neo-Nazis can hear,” she said. “My question is very simple, who’s got the power? What kind of power?”
“We have the power, people power!” roared the audience in return.
Huerta’s whole legacy revolved around change for her people.