United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta organizing marchers on the 2nd day of March Coachella in Coachella, CA 1969. © 1976 George Ballis / Take Stock / The Image Works. Courtesy of PBS Distribution

Civil Rights Activist Dolores Huerta Finally Gets Her Due in Sundance Doc ‘Dolores’

United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta organizing marchers on the 2nd day of March Coachella in Coachella, CA 1969. © 1976 George Ballis / Take Stock / The Image Works. Courtesy of PBS Distribution

History books have a way of washing away the accomplishments of women, in service of aggrandizing those of the men around them. That is the case with Dolores Huerta, who is not quite as well known as Cesar Chavez, the man she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association (later the United Farm Workers) movement with. A longtime advocate of workers, immigrants, and women’s rights, Huerta’s place in twentieth century American activism remains undervalued. This is a woman who has made a career out of championing those in need and who put her life at risk to do so: not only was she a few feet away from where Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968, she was also brutally beaten by San Francisco police officers while protesting George H.W. Bush’s policies in 1988.

Her life story, as well as the history of her activism is in full display in the documentary that bears her name, Dolores. Directed by Peter Bratt (yes, Benjamin’s brother and the guy behind the powerful San-Fran drama La Mission), and executive-produced by none other than Carlos Santana, Dolores is both a rallying cry for the type of activism Huerta stands for as well as a document of the personal fallouts that she’s faced as a woman and a mother. It hopes to give this Latina role model the place in American history and contemporary politics that she so deserves.

After being greeted by loud cheers following the documentary’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (on Inauguration Day of all days!), Dolores herself and the crew behind the film took the stage and answered a few questions about the timeliness and the importance of telling Dolores’s story. Check out some highlights below.

Dolores Huerta speaks at the podium. Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs Wayne State University
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UPDATE 5/18/17: Catch a sneak peek of the Dolores documentary on June 8, 2017 at UnionDocs in Brooklyn (before it hits theaters this fall.) A clip of Dolores will screen together with the short film Delano Manongs on the Filipino pickers who started the famous grape boycott in 1965 and the documentary Food Chains on tomato pickers who organized for labor rights in Florida. The screening is organized by Remezcla and Skylight as part of the BK@24FPS #Resist Film Series.

UPDATE 8/31/17: The Dolores documentary opens at the IFC Center in New York on September 1, 2017. Other theaters in cities across the country will follow in the weeks to come. Check doloresthemovie.com for updates.

On What Inspired The Project

Carlos Santana: It was a vision that was implanted in my heart. Everywhere I went I kept seeing and hearing that Dolores needed to have center stage. Her story needs to come to light. So I started calling Eduardo Olmos, George Lopez, everybody! It was kind of like this story. I went after Peter and when I went to see La Mission, about two brothers, I knew exactly who was supposed to be the person who would sculpt this masterpiece. Because this is a masterpiece. Because the subject is totally divine. It was a voice that came into my heart and said: you must do this. This is the most beautiful song that I have ever written in my life.

“It was a voice that came into my heart and said: you must do this. This is the most beautiful song that I have ever written.”

On Making A Film That Makes An Impact

Santana: As you know, flowers were only created on this planet for only one purpose: to demonstrate gratitude. From the center of our heart, we offer you [Dolores] our deepest gratitude for your supreme dedication to equality, fairness, and justice. I also want to invite everybody here. You can make a difference. You can help make this movie bigger than Star Wars. Bigger than anything. To take it to another level. We should support this movie and make it not be invisible. We are through [with] being invisible. Do whatever you can with all your passion to make this movie hit the four corners of the world. India, South Africa, all of Africa, South America. People need to know, women and men, that she is an architect of the highest order. And she has created something that is phenomenal. I could go on for days. Ella es mi reina de luz.

On Preaching A Message Of Empowerment

Dolores Huerta: I do want to say to all of the women out there, my children did survive! Some of them are here in the audience. You can see my son, Doctor Fidel Huerta; Emilio Huerta, who recently ran for Congress—he has to run one more time to win! All my children are back here, the ones you saw were crying in the film: Maria Elena; Camila, my youngest daughter who’s the executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

“We have the power to take our democracy back. To make it grow.”

They have survived. And Maria Elena did go to film school. Thank you very much for coming to this film. But we really hope this message of empowerment will reach many people. The message is that if you are a woman with all these children going through a divorce, you can still reach out to the poor people and let them know that they had power and that they could change their lives. And they did! By working together, by reaching out to the public. God knows that the best of us, we have that power also. We know that we here in this audience and people throughout our democracy in the United States: we have the power to take our democracy back. To make it grow. To make sure that everyone in this nation is treated equally. Women’s rights will not be taken away from them! We will fight for the environment and save the earth. We will fight for LGBTQ rights, and civil rights, and labor rights. But one thing we do have to know is that we do not fight for our rights, no one is going to fight for them. It’s up to all of us. Sí se puede!

Dolores Huerta attends the Women’s March at Sundance Film Festival.
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On Creating A Historical Record Of Dolores’ Achievements

Co-writer/editor Jessica Congdon: Well, it was definitely a team effort. But we did scour the country from academic archives to personal archives and had the help of a wonderful community and Dolores’s family. It really was a dream to work on, and an honor.

Peter Bratt: I’ll add that, as we began the research process of the film it became very clear that Dolores was going to be left out of the historical narrative. So we wanted to entertain but we also wanted to create a historical archive to show her involvement over the decades. The phenomenal thing was that the footage existed and was available. So we said: we’re creating a historical document and let’s use it to tell this story.

Santana: I also want to say, you know, after what happened today in Washington, I wanted to say very clearly: Presidents come and go. But there’s only one Dolores Huerta.

On Channeling Anger Towards Action

Dolores: I think I got my strength, initially as you see in the movie, when visiting the home of a farm worker when I was registering voters, actually. I was registering voters with my friend Fred Ross Sr. (oh I hope they make a movie about him) going door to door. And I went to a home of a farm worker and they had dirt floors, o range crates and boxes for furniture. And the children were running around barefoot. Obviously, it made me angry. These people were so poor even though they were working so hard. It just made me angry. Then again as a schoolteacher, in seeing the farm working children in my classrooms that were so threadbare. Once I learned this magic of getting people together, that they had power, that they could change things. I thought, that’s what I have to do. I had learned this skill from Mr. Ross and then, of course, I found out later that Cesar had this same passion. That’s when we got together to form the union.

“Presidents come and go. But there’s only one Dolores Huerta.”

It was just this anger and a lot of us are feeling that right now. We’re feeling the sense of injustice, and the sense of oppression. And the things that shouldn’t be as bad as they are. Because we know that things can be better. It was that anger, I think, that propelled me and I felt that, whatever cost it took, that this is what I had to do. That’s what I’ve dedicated my life to—to be able to teach this skill of grassroots organizing. Getting people together. To commit. To commit their time, their resources. And it means we have to leave some things behind but we know we can change this world, but it takes commitment of our time and of our resources. And to have faith in ourselves. You know, all of the criticisms and all of the people who are trying to stop you and putting obstacles in your way, you have to have that faith that we can make it happen. It’s like a calling, it’s like a drive. We hope that we can infect a lot of people with this same feeling so that we can, as I’ve said before, make the world a better place.