The other thing she said was “Never expect any kind of compensation when you are helping someone else.” My mother, like many people in Mexico, is a great devotee of Saint Francis of Assisi. The way she would put it is, “You take away the grace of God if you expect any kind of gratuity for something you do. “
My father was also a member of the New Mexico state legislature. Although my parents divorced (when she was three), he sent us a photo when he was elected. My father was a very active trade unionist; he was one of the founders of a union of agricultural workers. He was active as a volunteer for the miners union. Everywhere my dad went without a union, my dad organized one.
How has the culture you grew up in impacted your journey as an activist?
Huerta: I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a very diverse community. I like to tell people that I have learned from people that I grew up with. Next door was the Smith family, the neighbors on the left were Chinese immigrants, we had Greek immigrants across the street and Filipino friends as well. We grew up together and it was really, really wonderful, and it really prepared me for the world.
I wouldn’t say I was raised in a Hispanic culture, but we kind of incorporated a lot of culture. My family dates back 14 generations to the state of New Mexico and we moved to California when I was six. We celebrated Mexican Independence Day, but my mom and I didn’t visit Mexico until I was 17. We celebrated Catholic and Latino culture. At Christmas we made tamales and biscochitos.
When would you say you really started to identify yourself as an activist?
Huerta: Growing up, I was sort of an activist. I was in the choir and did community service and was really involved socially. But I didn’t know how to organize myself until I met Fred Ross Sr., (a community organizer). I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a real difference, but I didn’t know how.
At a meeting for the Community Service Organization (a civil rights group for Latinos in California), Mr. Ross told us how in Los Angeles they organized people in East LA and they were able to make changes and elect the first Latino in town. Advice. He showed us newspaper clippings about police reform efforts. I was so excited that people could do this. I wanted to belong to this organization.
So Mr. Ross started doing a lot of meetings and I organized a lot of meetings for him because I had a lot of friends from all of my social activities. We were able to form a chapter of the Community Service Organization in Stockton, California. As a result, we were able to pass major legislation in California. We were able to get driver’s licenses and ballots in Spanish. We were able to pass a law according to which if you were a legal resident with a green card, you were entitled to public assistance. We passed a voting law which is still in effect today.
Learning how you could do that, organizing people to come together and put pressure on politicians and present legislation, I say in some ways is like finding the pot of gold at the end of a bow -in sky. It is miraculous.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Huerta: He founded the first farmers’ union in the United States of America (the National Farm Workers Association, known today as the United Farm Workers). There have been so many attempts in the past.