Dolores Huerta talks to CALÓ NEWS about water justice, anti-hate and more

Dolores Huerta turned 93 years old last month. She visited the city of Los Angeles to talk about the importance of water conservation.

At 93 years old, Dolores Huerta, a civil rights icon for Latinos and all Americans, continues to fight for women, Latinos and working-class people. Huerta, who was born in New Mexico, has participated and led collective actions such as boycotts and strikes, as well as various social justice initiatives and community organizing. Along with Cesar Chavez, Dolores co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers of America

The United Farm Workers (UFW) was an influential union that organized the grape boycott in the late 1960s, negotiating with which forced grape producers to improve working conditions for migrant farmworkers and also increase their pay. For decades, Huerta dedicated her life to organizing and working with farming communities in California, to pass equitable working conditions and prevent the exploitation of Latino farmworkers.

In 2002, Huerta received a $100,000 Nation/Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship. She used the money granted to her to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Today, the foundation develops and trains young leaders to become community activists and organizers. The foundation also focuses on issues like voter registration, participation in the electoral process and promoting awareness of legislative bills that affect local communities.

One day before Earth Day, on April 21, Huerta visited the city of Los Angeles to advocate for one of Earth’s most essential resources: water.  

On this day, Groundswell, a grassroots organizing campaign and project, hosted a civil rights and water justice legislative virtual briefing to address the inequities in state water policies, particularly affecting low-income communities of color. 

The briefing was held at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and hosted leaders such as Steve Bradford, Vice Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, California Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes,  national president of the Urban League Marc Morial and Huerta, who is Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus. 

The Groundswell event was open to the public and brought together many state and community leaders who believe that water is a human right. The event also called attention to many low-income communities whose water supply is often unsafe to drink because of contamination. 

Huerta said that one of the main goals of the conference was to build infrastructure to make sure that California can conserve the water they have, in addition to making sure drinking water is being examined and treated. “We can all have cool, safe, portable drinking water, especially our children because we know that where water is contaminated, that also affects the physical and mental health of our children,” Huerta told CALÓ NEWS. “We have very smart people in our state, and there’s no reason why this should continue. We have to come together, use our best minds so that people in our communities, especially our Latino community, people of color, can be protected and that every person in the state of California has access to good, safe water.”

Last December, the Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors declared a regional drought emergency for all of Southern California and asked water agencies to “immediately reduce their use of all imported supplies,” as stated in a press release. And although the Golden State has received an unprecedented amount of rain in the last few months, city leaders at the April 21 event said that California still needs a plan to invest in water storage, conveyance, recycling and purification. 

“This is such an important issue because water is life. We need it to live – not only to drink but also to cook. One of the reasons this conference is being held today is for all of us to look forward and see how we can manage our water better,” Huerta told CALÓ NEWS. 

In parts of the state, lack of access to clean, safe and affordable water is one of the leading threats to public health and the well-being of its residents. One of these at-risk places includes San Joaquin Valley (SJV), a community that the Dolores Huerta Foundation prioritizes and serves because it is considered an agricultural heartland but that, at the same time, suffers yearly from inadequate impacts of climate change. 

A report published by the University of California, Davis Center for Regional Change in 2018 showed the racial disparities in access to drinking water that exist in SJV.  For example, while Latinos or “Hispanics,” as referred to in the study, make up just under half (48.9%) of the total population of the SJV, they represent over two-thirds (67.9%) of residents in “Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities,” (DUC) which are low-income communities located outside city boundaries. 

The report also stated that many DUC residents in the San Joaquin Valley “pay a triple penalty to obtain safe water: they bear the health costs of unsafe drinking water; they purchase that unsafe water at high costs; and they must also purchase “substitute” water—typically expensive bottled water—for drinking and cooking purposes.”  

“We know that there are many water issues throughout the state of California, and in the farmworker areas a lot of water is contaminated. There are many areas where water cannot even be tested because it is so polluted,” Huerta said. 

Besides climate justice, CALÓ NEWS interviewed Huerta about water justice, immigration, anti-hate and more.


Many of the crimes that are being committed right now are against people of color, against Jewish and Muslim people… we have to stop this kind of hatred. And the only way we can do that is by organizing our communities so that we can integrate and actually reach out to other communities because when people know each other, they can’t hate each other. We have to do much deeper curriculums in our schools so that our children start meeting people from other ethnic groups, and they can celebrate other people’s cultures. This is the way we can break down that hatred … let’s call it ignorance. In our society, in the U.S. we cannot educate any more Nazis. There is something wrong when people come out of the educational system, and they come out with some prejudice. Right now, it is a very critical time because we know there are forces out there that are trying to ban books. Because they do not want our history to be told… this is U.S. history and American history, this is not Mexican history or Asian history or Black history. This is American history, but if they take our stories out of the school books, then all of those children are going to grow up with that culture of racism. We have put more effort and resources [and] more money into our educational system so that our teachers have time to counter the hate that is being created in our society because children are not born racist, they are not born misogynist, they are not born homophobic – they are made that way by the culture they grew up in. The one place where we can do something about that culture of hatred is in our schools. But we have to get our teachers better salaries and give them the support system that they need. Of course, we need to pay them more money, and this is the way that we tackle it. We have to do it very quickly because our society is collapsing. We see this in all the violence, shootings, and all the killings that are happening. 


In 1996, we passed the Amnesty Bill and many people got legalization through that bill, but the only way that we made that happen is because we elected democratic congresspeople, and when I say “democratic,” I mean Democrats through the Senate of the U.S. There has been a bill in Congress for many years to legalize, so people can get their legalization status in the U.S. I just want to say to everyone out there that {an immigration reform] will not happen unless we get more progressive Democrats elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. It is in our hands. We also have a lot of people out there that are not citizens but have been here for many years in the U.S. What are you waiting for? Take that responsibility. You got your legal residency here and it is time for you to [apply] for citizenship because we need your vote. We have to get out there and register people to vote. As organizer Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” It’s time to act, become a citizen, register to vote and vote. 


One of the reasons why I am so active at 93 years old is that I have seen, looking back, all the great laws that we have been able to pass in the state of California to help our Latino community. It started way back in 1993 when we passed a bill that allowed [people] to vote in the Spanish language, where people were able to get their license also in Spanish. More recently, we passed a law that all undocumented people will be covered by healthcare in California. We can do this, but we have to come together and organize and we have to become activists, everyone. Once we are here in the U.S. we have to be responsible citizens and become activists in order to keep our democracy alive. We are a huge population, as Latinos, but we have to show our power and the way that we show our power is by voting. 

Today, Huerta is now living in Southern California, a state that has seen her advocate for the marginalized and excluded low-income people of color. Although water conservation and water justice have been at the forefront of her effort, she remains informed of the ongoing injustices for Latinos. Huerta’s legacy continues to become a true inspiration for many young leaders and as one of the UFW’s most visible spokespersons, she has worked to elect numerous candidates including former President Bill Clinton, Congressman Ron Dellums, Governor Jerry Brown, and now LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis and Hillary Clinton. In 2012 former President Barack Obama presented Huerta with her most prestigious award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award in the U.S. 

Next month, on May 12, Huerta is expected to receive her honorary degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa from the University of Southern California. The event, which will also be a celebration of her 93rd birthday, will take place in La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Downtown LA. If you are interested in attending, tickets are available HERE. All the ticket proceeds will go to the building fund for the Dolores Huerta Peace and Justice Cultural Center. To learn more about Huerta’s legacy and ongoing efforts, you can visit her foundation’s website HERE.

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