Dolores Huerta comes home to New Mexico to push for Build Back Better

By: - November 24, 2021 6:19 am

Dolores Huerta, the legendary farmworker activist, came home to New Mexico on Tuesday. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source New Mexico)

Legendary labor activist Dolores Huerta visited workers on a construction site and in a university classroom Tuesday, a homecoming to New Mexico in which she pushed for the Build Back Better legislation and reflected on nearly 70 years of activism. 

Huerta, 91, was born in Dawson, a small mining town in Northeastern New Mexico before becoming an effective and celebrated activist for migrant farmworkers across the United States. She co-founded United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez and has since advocated for farmworkers and immigrants, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

In recent months, Huerta has traveled across the country to push for improvements to the Build Back Better legislation, a $2 trillion effort by Democrats to improve infrastructure, tackle climate change, lower drug prices and address other priorities in the U.S. 

Her travels included two trips to Arizona in recent weeks, she said, where she helped deliver 15,000 postcards to the office of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Sinema. 

Sinema, a Democrat, objected to some of her own party’s priorities in passing a massive infrastructure package, drawing the attention of Huerta and other activists.

“We delivered 15,000 petitions and postcards to her office,” she said. “They wouldn’t open the office, but we were there at the door.”

Huerta joined U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury in the visiting an Albuquerque construction project at Presbyterian Hospital and holding a conversation with farmworkers and students in a University of New Mexico classroom. In both visits, she described Build Back Better as a rare opportunity for Democrats to finally make lasting changes for workers, women and the poor. 

“There’s so much riding on all of this,” she said in an interview. 

Last week, the House passed its version of Build Back Better, and it now is making its way to the Senate. It will face opposition there from Republicans and potential hurdles from Sinema and her fellow Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

Huerta said she supports the legislation but thinks it doesn’t go far enough in some respects —  particularly on immigration. 

The bill before it gets to the Senate would make it easier for about 7 million of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to be here legally, allowing them to receive work permits or get driver’s licenses. But it stopped short of providing them a path to citizenship. It’s unclear whether those provisions will be further weakened in the Senate. 

“Everybody wishes they would have been stronger, and it started out with stronger,” Huerta said. “It was going to try to make it easier for people to get citizenship.”

At Presbyterian Hospital, she donned a hardhat and orange vest and spoke with union carpenters who said they are having difficulty winning contracts in New Mexico, often losing to Texas firms that pay their employees less and therefore under-bid local firms. 

She also stressed the importance of union work and making the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges a priority. In March 2020, the city re-named Bridge Street after her, and she hopes the road won’t fall into disrepair due to a lack of funding or shoddy construction. 

“If it doesn’t need work now, it will need it in the future,” she said, laughing. 

At UNM’s Mitchell Hall, she spoke to about 40 students and farmworkers, including members of the College Assistance Migrant Program, which recruits farmworker students to help them get a university education. They gave her a standing ovation before she gave a speech stressing the importance of trades like construction and agriculture. 

“We don’t talk about the importance of people that work with their hands,” she said. “What would we do without farmworkers who feed us? What would we do without construction workers who build our buildings? Without people who clean our buildings?”

She ended her speech with chants of “Si se puede!” and “viva la union!” and urged those in attendance to fight for their democracy. 

“If we want to save our country, nobody’s going to do it for us,” she said. “We are the ones that are going to have to do it.”

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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