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Phoenix, Arizona. January 11, 2011 - Reached via telephone in her office in Bakersfield, California, organizer and Chicano Movement icon Dolores Huerta speaks about the recent decision of the University of Texas at El Paso to cancel the observation of the Cesar Chavez Day, the 14th Amendment, Ethnic Studies, Arizona, and other important issues for the Latino community.
Eduardo Barraza: Mrs. Huerta, what is your opinion about the UTEP’s cancellation of Cesar Chavez Day?
Dolores Huerta: It is a disappointment, because if there was any time when Latino students and the Latino community needed support, it is now and for them to cancel it I think it’s very disappointing.
I don’t know what the other 12 holidays are but if Columbus Day is one of them… you know what I mean? That’s one that they can definitely substitute. I think for the Latino community, especially for the students for all of the reasons that you know and that you have stated of Cesar being such an example for everybody, they should definitely keep that day as a holiday. Especially since 76 percent of the students in the UTEP are Latino, there’s just no excuse not to have it there.
EB: What do you think about the current attempts by some legislators to modify the 14th Amendment?
DH: I think it’s insane, it’s racist right off the back, it’s ethnic cleansing, it’s adding more salt to all of the wounds, and all of the insults that our community has been suffering; it’s terrible. But I think the only thing that hopefully our people will get mad enough que se van a organizar (that they are going to get organized), you know what I mean? This is the only answer. We have said plainly that we know that we got the power, we got the numbers, we just got to get it together. It’s important that we see all these things that are happening to us –especially in Arizona–, that we got to come together and we got to organize, we got to really use our numbers and our power in a very non-violent way so we can stop these abuses; these are political abuses that they are inflicting upon us, and it’s not going to stop until we make them pay the political price.
Do you know they took me out of the grammar schools in Texas? Did you hear about that? They took me out of the libros of grammar school. One of the reasons they claimed is because I was a member of an organization called the Democratic Socialists of America, which they claimed is a political party, which is not a political party, it’s a private organization that John Sweeney -the head of the AFL-CIO-, Gloria Steinem, Michael Harrington, Harold Meyerson -who writes for the American Prospect Magazine-, these are all people that belong to this organization, and for that reason me quitaron (they took me out). At least that is the excuse that they used.
EB: What are your thoughts regarding the Arizona Superintendent of Public Education’s push to get rid of the Ethnic Studies curriculum in the Tucson Unified School District?
DH: I heard Roberto Rodriguez’ interview last night on Radio Bilingue, and the other professor they had –they had two professors– and they went through all of the different things that they are cutting out. But you know what? The thing is that we are going to have to start doing like they did during the 60s when we had what we called the Freedom Schools. When they did not have ethnic studies they had the Freedom Schools, and people got together and they were teaching what we called our ethnic studies. And the reason they don’t want to have ethnic studies (in Tucson) is because we know that that really adds to the self esteem of our children, qué no? (is it not so?). That makes them proud of whom they are, what their heritage is, and this is of course what they need, they need to have self esteem, and they need to know their history. But at the same time we know that knowledge without action is wasted, no? So once we have knowledge of our history and our heritage then we have to act, we have to do something. So it is not enough to have the knowledge, we also got to do the action behind it. The political action that it takes to make sure the abuse doesn’t continue.
EB: Is the American society reverting to some of the issues you fought for during the 60s and 70s?
DH: Absolutely, but you know what, it’s not the American society, it’s a few haters. We don’t want to target everybody with that. Son unos pocos locos, (they’re just a few nuts) you know what I mean; people that are haters, people that are racists, they are the ones that are doing this. It’s not everybody, so we shouldn’t say that it is everybody; it’s just those who are using hatemongering for political advantage. We have to be careful that we don’t paint everybody with the same brush.
EB: What do you consider to be the most pressing issue for Latinos in Arizona?
DH: Like I said before, I think the only answer is to organize. I made some comments in Tucson when they had the ethnic studies seminar (December 2010). What I said then I am going to repeat it, because, I mean, I’ve been around a long time and I was there during the 60s when we were going through many of the same types of situations that we’re going through right now, and the only answer for us is to start organizing. No hay otra (there’s no other way), you know? And if we have to march, that’s important that we march. It is important that we protest. But we also have to organize because the only way that we can change is through organizing. I said this and some people took offense with me by what I said, but I am going to repeat it, because I saw even in this last election; what did we see in this last election? We saw that in Nevada that only has 12 percent Latinos, they actually put over, they were able to get (Senator) Harry Reid elected as the president of the Senate.
After millions of dollars that the Republicans put in there to defeat him. But it was the Latino vote that worked for him. The same thing happened in Colorado with (Senator) Mike Bennet; he ran for the senate over there. The thing is that we know that the ultimate thing for us is to organize, and in Arizona, here you have Nevada that only has 12 percent Latino, and I don’t know how many there are in Colorado, but I do know that in Arizona we have a lot of Latinos; 30 percent of the population! If in Nevada 12 percent could do what they did, what’s wrong with us in Arizona? Nos falta organizarnos (we are lacking to get organized). We have to organize over there.
It’s important to march and everything, but we have to get people to get registered to vote. If we can register the people to vote and get them out to vote… because not everybody is a hater, you know? A lot of the people there would be on our side. But we have to go and explain, we have to explain to them what the contributions of our immigrants are, we have to go door to door. Here in California –I don’t know if you know what happened in California– but all of the most liberal Democrats got elected; the most liberal Democrats! All these people got elected from San Francisco, and Berkeley and Oakland! And you know how they got elected? With the Latino votes from L.A. It was the Latino vote from Los Angeles, and these are people that are going to be on our side. I think if we can do it in California we can do it in Arizona, and Texas. I don’t know qué más patadas nos tienen que dar (how many more times do we need to be kicked) so we can wake up.
I was disappointed when I was in Phoenix and I was talking to other people over there that they didn’t think voting was important. And they criticized me. There’s a group over there and they’re criticizing me because I keep saying that. But I only said that because I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the results of that and we can really win that way.
The only thing that I want to say to everybody out there is, we are not going to get mad, but we are going to get even. And all these people are going to pay the political price eventually.