Octogenarian Dolores Huerta, the Chicana activist who built the United Farm Workers labor union alongside Cesar Chavez, has been honored in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles with a square dedicated in her name. Huerta was a pivotal figure in El Movimiento aka the Chicano Movement whose activism was shaped by the Boyle Heights community. She coined the ubiquitous rallying call, “Sí, se puede,” an expression of fortitude in the face of oppression and cynicism that threatened to derail El Movimiento.
“This is where the Chicano Movement started,” Huerta said at the dedication ceremony in late June. “Everything that Cesar and I did — we learned it here in Boyle Heights.” Dolores Huerta Square is located at the intersection of East First Street and Chicago Street. Huerta, who at the age of 89 is politically active to this day, reminded the gatherers of the necessary work we must perform as citizens.
“We can never wait for somebody to come and bring justice or fight for justice for us,” she told them. “The only way we can get the justice — we have to do it for ourselves.” Just this month, Huerta asked the members of the Boyle Heights community to participate in the Census, despite the chilling effect that the Trump administration’s immigration policies and rhetoric may have on Census participation. “Answer the Census!” she urged. “If you don’t get counted, your community loses 15,000 dollars per person.” Huerta’s directive matched that of the Speaker of the House, who has described lower Census participation as a “win” for the current administration.
Alice Bag, a Chicana activist, told Curbed LA that she expects Dolores Huerta Square to be an inspiration to everyone in the neighborhood, citing the way that streets like Cesar Chavez Boulevard recalls the way that historic male figures impacted the Los Angeles community. “Women (and especially young girls) also need to be reminded of the great deeds and ideas of women like Dolores Huerta,” she said. “We need to be able to see ourselves in that greatness so that we can rise to their example.”
Huerta, a vocal proponent of empowerment through representation, would perhaps agree that this new square will serve as much more than a celebration of her work as an individual. She emphasized to the Texas Observer in 2018, as she was canvassing from door to door to register voters in Austin, the transformative power of stories like hers. “There’s a powerful line from one of the teachers in Arizona,” she said, referring to a 2017 ban (no longer in effect) in the state of Mexican American studies. “He says stories can empower or stories can enslave. So when people’s stories are not told, kids don’t see the stories that reflect them. These are liberation stories.”