Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta talks American social issues at K-State

Courtesy photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Dolores Huerta, best known for her work with the National Farm Workers Association alongside César Chávez, spoke to a packed crowd of students and community members in the Kansas State Student Union Grand Ballroom on Friday evening.

Huerta responded to how social issues in the United States are affecting us today and how they can be fixed.

“We have what I call an abysmal ignorance in our society,” Huerta said. “What is it that is dividing us in our society? We think of the issues of racism, of homophobia, of sexism and misogyny against women, of issues with our environment, of bigotry, looking down on people that are poor … those are some of the ills that we have, but I do think we have a cure.”

Huerta said one of the reasons racism exists in the U.S. today is because the “real history” of America is not taught in schools.

“We are never taught that Native Americans were the first slaves, and when we look at all of the land to make America, did we ever say, ‘Thank you’? Have we ever paid them back for the land we took?”

“And then, we think of who were the other slaves?” Huerta continued. “Of course, Africans that they brought to the United States in slavery. And they built the White House … and they built the Congress of the United States. And Monticello, where Jefferson lived. … These were all built by African slaves, but we’re not taught that in our school books.”

Huerta also pointed out that Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Filipino immigrants built many of the U.S. railroads.

“As long as we do not teach that, our children of color will never get the dignity and the respect that they deserve, and our Anglo children will always have that poison of white supremacy and white privilege,” Huerta said.

Huerta later talked about her work in labor unions and their importance.

“If labor unions are destroyed, like what’s happening now, then our middle class will leave,” Huerta said. “And if we don’t have a middle class, we don’t have a democracy. Right now in the United States, we know that … 50 percent of the wealth in the United States is owned by one percent of the families.”

Huerta spoke on many other issues, like supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy and encouraging more female leadership in the country. In the final few minutes of her speech, she called the audience to action.

“I do believe that those of you in this room here in Kansas will make a difference because we have to save our country,” Huerta said. “And we can do it, but we cannot depend on somebody else. We have to do it ourselves.”

She led the audience in a chant of “Sí se puede! Yes we can!” to close out her talk. An audience Q&A session followed, and Huerta answered questions regarding white allyship, keeping hope in dark times and how she organized workers who were financially struggling.

Huerta was invited to campus by K-State’s Hispanic-American Leadership Organization. After her appearance, the band Making Movies held a free concert in the Union Courtyard in honor of César Chávez.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.