Dolores Huerta delivers S.H.O.U.T! week keynote

The Pugh Community Board’s annual S.H.O.U.T! week hosted a series of events over the course of the past week, including a well-attended keynote lecture from legendary activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta.

S.H.O.U.T! Week, which stands for “Speaking, Hearing, Opening Up Together,” is intended to “foster multiculturalism and inclusion in a week of programming about activism,” according to an email from The Pugh Community Board. The events kicked off with Huerta’s lecture on Thursday, March 3, in Lorimer Chapel. As an activist who has been arrested 22 times for her participation in non-violent protests, Huerta’s unwavering dedication underscored this year’s S.H.O.U.T! theme, “What’s the Cost?”, which sought to examine the sacrifices individuals make for the sake of activism.

Huerta, age 85, is perhaps best known for her work with Cesar Chavez, with whom she founded the United Farm Workers in 1962. Huerta challenged norms of gender and ethnicity by establishing herself as a leader in the fight for fair wages and conditions for farm workers in California. Huerta was instrumental in several strikes and boycotts, most famously protesting grape growers in the area of Delano, California.

In the decades that followed, she grew to be an activist for the rights of women, immigrants, children, and racial minorities. After leaving the UFW, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and has advocated on behalf of many by supporting civil rights campaigns and influencing legislative action. Huerta’s work has earned her many honors, including a spot in both the Women’s Hall of Fame and the California Hall of Fame. Most notably, in 2012 President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award in the United States.

As she spoke to members of the Colby community this past Thursday, however, Huerta did not focus on her own record of activism. Rather, she emphasized the importance of continuing the fight, of recognizing the inequalities that remain embedded in our nation and working to change them. “I’m looking at this audience, and I’m thinking of everything going on in our society, and it reminds me, honestly, of when we were back in the 1960’s,” she said.

The need for individuals to take a stand is as pressing today as it was then, she said, and “so many of the issues we face today really come from racism.” Huerta called on the young audience members to carry on the legacy of activism, especially so as to break down the many systemic and societal barriers in place. However, in order to meet these goals, she continued, the population must be educated and engaged. She then referenced Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and his belief that “if you do not have an educated citizenry, then the greedy and the powerful will rule the government.”

In Huerta’s view, the dynamics of race and the many historical contributions of people of color should be required content in every classroom. “I grew up with a huge inferiority complex because I was a Mexican-American,” Huerta said. “And it wasn’t until I went to Mexico and I saw all of these people – the pilot of the airplane was Mexican, the stewardesses were Mexican. And in Mexico City, there were doctors, attorneys everything. And I finally started to feel a little bit of pride for who I was.”

Education is the key to ensuring that conversations about race happen early and often, so that “racism cannot keep being used to divide people.”

Throughout her hour-long keynote address, Huerta went on to speak about several issues, including the oppression of women, the disproportionate power of corporations and the very wealthy, the prison-industrial complex, and the unjust treatment of immigrants. At the close of her speech, Huerta led the audience in a lively round of chants, culminating in hundreds of voices reciting, “Si se puede, si se puede” – yes we can.

The following morning, at 11 a.m. a meet-and-greet with Huerta was held in a classroom in Lovejoy. The event was independent from S.H.O.U.T! week and instead hosted by Hillary for Maine. This fall, Huerta, an outspoken and lifelong feminist, officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. At the meet-and-greet, Huerta spoke with students and volunteers about her steadfast support for Clinton.

S.H.O.U.T! events continued into the weekend, with a screening of “Norma Rae” on Saturday night. On Sunday, the Alumni Award was presented to Nino Brown ’13, who was an engaged activist during his time on campus and now teaches in Boston. S.H.O.U.T! week culminated on Monday, March 7 with a Pugh Center panel titled “Opportunuties and Costs,” which centered on the College’s revitalization efforts in downtown Waterville.

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