Dolores Huerta is one of the most important labor leaders and civil rights activists in U.S. history. She is best known for her efforts on behalf of migrant farmworkers, who travel from one place to another for work.
By the 1960s, such workers, who were mostly from immigrant communities, had long suffered from labor abuses. Huerta, who is Mexican American, coined the slogan of the growing movement for their rights: “Sí se puede!,” Spanish for “Yes we can!”
Most famously, in 1965 Huerta helped organize a historic strike against grape growers in Delano, California. The growers had been forcing laborers to work long hours without breaks for very low wages. The workers were also exposed to harmful pesticides and often lacked access to bathrooms.
The five-year strike—and a national boycott of grapes directed by Huerta—led the growers to agree to safer working conditions and pay raises for the laborers. Huerta’s continued efforts also paved the way for a California law that ensured farmworkers the right to negotiate with employers over wages and working conditions.
Huerta, now 91, has also championed other causes, including getting more Latinx people elected to government. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for her lifelong activism.