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Si se puede! Human rights activist inspires the Mujeres Unidas club

Human rights activist Dolores Huerta poses with members of the Mills College Mujeres Unidas, a club that strives to meet the needs of Chicana and Latina students. (Natalie Diaz)

When thinking of Mills women, many people think of activism. Convocation keynote speaker Dolores Huerta fits the profile with her nationally-recognized involvement in human rights.

“I think it really ties in with what we’re doing,” said Linda Northcott, director of College events. “With her background, she seems like a strong individual, overcome with so many odds to protect the rights of workers and unions. If you look at Mills, protecting to be a women’s undergraduate school, they are similar.”

As co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, Huerta helped farm workers gain better wages. She supported the farm workers by leading the national table grape boycott strike that led to the California Agricultural Relations Act, which allowed farm workers to organize for better wages and working conditions.

Students and staff expressed excitement over Huerta’s visit.

“She’s…out there in the world,” said Cindy Beitmen, the early music professor. “I think it is fabulous because she looks out for the little guy or little woman.”

At convocation, Huertas’ daughter Camila Chavez, who graduated  from Mills College in 1998, introduced her with stories that presented Huerta, not in a different light, but as the same strong women and organizer people know her as.

“I liked all her stories and the jokes. She made it entertaining, especially the introduction her daughter Camila Chavez made about her sisters picketing against their mom,” said freshwoman Kelly Wong.

Another freshwoman, Ashley Diaz, was impressed with the words of Huerta herself.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it inspired me to be more diligent with my studies and taking … opportunity,” Diaz said.

After her convocation speech, Dolores Huerta had a lunch meeting in the Solidarity Lounge with the Mujeres Unidas club, whose mission is to serve the needs of the Chicana-Latina population at Mills.  Deborah Berman Santana, professor in ethnic studies, mentioned what a pleasure it was to have Huerta with them at an informal time.
In the intimate setting, Huerta spoke in Spanish and began by asking everyone how one felt about having their citizenship taken away. She mentioned issues concerning immigration, like the law in Arizona and how scary it is. An example she gave was about Wal-mart being built in other countries and how it replaces the small store owners already in that country, and asked a rhetorical question, why is it that people leave their country?

Dolores Huerta discusses women’s and political issues that affect both Mills students and family. (Natalie Diaz)

“It was really inspiring intellectually. She brought up a lot of things I never thought of before, like the causes of immigration,” said Berkeley graduate Juan Lara.

She brought up many topics about the people, la gente, and about how the politics of today greatly involve immigration issues. Her topics not only pertained to Mills students, but also to visiting family members.

“It was a great opportunity and the greatest event in my life especially for being Chicano. She is on the same level as Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks. And being here with Mills women, it’s unforgettable,” said Ricardo Castillo, father of student Gabriela Castillo.

Huerta emphasized the need to educate “our people” and the need to get them involved in voting, especially in this upcoming November election, for the issues that affect their community, such as immigration reformation. The people that attended seemed to respond when she mentioned that in the Latino community, 20 million have the right to vote, but only 10 million actually vote.

“It was very moving because my parents are immigrants. It is nice to teach younger generations to continue what was started not that long ago,” said Iyari Ortiz, senior Mills student.

Huerta also spoke about how much immigration discourse is founded on racism. She pointed out that attacks on feminists and then the LGBT community, were parallel to attacks on immigrants.

Her time at the lunch with Mujeres Unidas was not as long as expected, but she had a serious impact on the group, many of whom have parents who are immigrants to the U.S.

“I liked this event. I think that if we could get a little more time it would be great. What she said was good because I come from an immigrant family. It is an issue that is close to me. I love having her here,” said Maria Mejia, sophomore Mills student and co-president of Mujeres Unidas.

“It was amazing,” said Gina Rosabl, director of student diversity programs. “She’s such a powerful and inspiring activist, the way she really looks and lives the interconnection of struggle.”