New documentary explores life of activist Dolores Huerta

Photo Courtesy of PBS distribution

By Dorany Pineda

Director Peter Bratt’s new documentary “Dolores” is a powerful, intimate and engaging look into the life of activist, feminist and rebel Dolores Huerta.

Huerta––unbeknownst to many––was cofounder of the National Farmworkers Association, which would later be known as the United Farmworkers Union. She, along with the more widely-known Cesar Chavez, fought tirelessly to change the miserable working conditions and unjust treatment of the country’s food growers in the 1960s.

Despite her tremendous influence, work and sacrifice in the fight for labor and racial justice, Huerta’s contributions to the movement have been largely unrecognized. But Bratt paints a powerful portrait of Huerta’s life, both on the frontlines of social change and the personal stakes that came with it.

Told through interviews with family members, friends, activists, political dignitaries and scholars, along with Huerta’s own voice and archived footage, the story of Huerta––who is described as “the most vocal activist you’ve never heard of”–– is one of sheer passion, conviction and sacrifice.

The documentary opens in an intimate space: Huerta, now 87, is shown in a hotel room, fixing herself up to go out into the world. The camera then cuts to a montage of Huerta walking onto a series of public spaces: a stage, an auditorium, a podium, a sidewalk, all to a crowd of cheering people.

But as the film shows, the mostly deep affection and respect that Huerta gained from farm workers and later the rest of the country, did not come without its struggles. She was jailed, seriously beaten, mocked and often criticized by both men and women who preferred to see her in a more traditional role.

A mother of 11, most of Huerta’s children were interviewed in the film. Besides talking about her work and influence, they also all unanimously expressed how their mother’s absence affected them when they were younger.

The amount of screen time that these candid and heartfelt interviews get are what makes “Dolores” unique. Her adult children talk about how for months at a time they wouldn’t see their mother, who often left them behind with relatives while she was out organizing farm strikes and rousing people into action.

The interviews with her now-adult children were very emotional. One of her son’s remembered when he dropped out of high school, and Huerta, his mother, didn’t find out for 10 months. “The movement became her most important child. There are scars there because of that,” one of her daughters said.

These interviews show a woman who, while capable of great justice and change, was also capable of causing great pain to those closest to her. “Dolores” exposes Huerta’s humanity in all its flaws and vulnerabilities in all its regrets and successes.

Originator of the phrase “Si se puede (yes we can),” which became former President Barack Obama’s motto, Huerta then as Huerta now, at 87, still chants that song.

And Bratt’s “Dolores” highlights the force of the woman behind not just those words, but these: “You can’t make change unless you give something up,” a statement Huerta utters and which the powerful film shows the truth of, from all sides of her life.

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