Related Topics: Mexican-American, Social Activist, Labor Unions, Cesar Chavez
Grade Level: 5th/6th
Author: Cindy Mathews



Over 40 years of Dolores Huerta's life has been spent helping farm laborers organize and fight for reform (Knight 12). She has been the "hidden engine" in the Farm Workers Association while Cesar Chavez was the highly visible one (Griswold del Castillo 59). She is a very nontraditional, complicated, independent, and passionately driven woman. She has been very devoted to the union, yet often criticized for her independence, unconventional family life, combative personality, and marked assertiveness. Dolores Huerta has a very strong sense of self which she credits to her mother's example of being an independent and ambitious Chicano woman. She sees immense value in "Being Yourself" (Griswold del Castillo 62-7).

Dolores Huerta was born April 10, 1930 in New Mexico. As a child, she was involved in Girl Scouts, church choir, and various other clubs. She grew up in a very culturally diverse neighborhood and didn't experience discrimination until she was a teen. She graduated from Stockton College in California.

In the 1950's she became involved in the Community Service Organization (CSO) and helped organize Hispanic Americans, register voters, and lobby the state legislature. In 1962, she joined Cesar Chavez in forming the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which was later named the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). Over the years she has been very involved in organizing farm workers, boycotting, striking, and educating legislators about the inadequate living conditions, poor health, and extreme poverty level of farm laborers. Dolores Huerta even testified before the House of Represenatives in 1985 (Allen 99). She has spent her life trying to improve the living conditions of others.

The history of farm labor in California has been one of racism, exploitation, minimal pay, and poor living conditions (Berberoglu 101). Until the mid-1800's, Spanish and white land owners used California Indians as slaves to work their ranches. By the early 1860's, with the Indian population nearly decimated in California, land owners began to rely upon a system of Chinese tenantry. However, between 1910 and 1920, the number of Japanese laborers surpassed even the Chinese work force. Then, when WWII broke out, over 100,000 Japanese, both citizens and noncitizens of the United States, were forcibly sent to so-called internment camps. This "emergency wartime" removal of Japanese workers caused a drastic labor shortage.

In 1942, the U.S. government made an agreement to import "bracero" labor from Mexico (Berberoglu 99-100). Braceros were Mexican field workers who were employed seasonally in more than 30 states across the country--especially California (Sosnick 387-8). This was a very controversial practice. American farm workers were being denied jobs because the braceros would work for lower wages. According to the law, Americans should have been hired first, but growers continued using bracero labor to keep wages artificially low (Newlon 59). Many of the UFW struggles have dealt with this problem. Much progress has been made, but there is still plenty left to do.

Dolores Huerta once stated, "I would like to be remembered as a woman who cares for fellow humans. We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for" (Griswold del Castillo 75).

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Allen, Angela. Focus on Hispanic Americans, #498. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, 1995.

Berberoglu, Berch, ed. The Labor Process and Control of Labor. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.

"Chavez, Cesar." Hispanic Biographies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Globe Book, 1989.

Dunne, John Gregory. Delano. New York: Farrar, 1971.

Goldfarb, Ronald L. Migrant Farm Workers: A Caste of Despair. Ames: Iowa State UP, 1981.

Griswold del Castillo, Richard, and Richard A. Garcia. Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1995.

Knight, Margy Burns. Who Belongs Here: An American Story. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1993.

Knight, Margy Burns and Thomas V. Chan. Who Belongs Here? Activity Guide. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1994.

Martin, Philip L., and David A. Martin. Harvest of Confusion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.

Newlon, Clarke. Famous Mexican Americans. New York: Dodd, 1972.

Sosnick, Stephen H. Hired Hands: Seasonal Farm Workers in the United States. Santa Barbara: McNally, 1978.


*For a free curriculum, video, and coloring book about the United Farm Workers, write to United Farm Workers (UFW), Curriculum Project, Department Pa, Box 62, Keene, CA 93531.

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1) Students will be able to identify one way they would like to change their class, school, or community.

2) Students will be able to summarize main points of a reading selection about Dolores Huerta.

3) Students will be able to describe Dolores Huerta and her contributions to society.

4) Students will be able to compare and contrast characteristics of themselves and Dolores Huerta.

5) Students will be able to define labor unions.

6) Students will be able to discover the importance of taking action to improve society.

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Time Allotment:

Approximately 8 class periods should be allotted for the first activities.

The time involved in the culminating service project will vary depending on what the students decide to do.

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Resources Needed:

*Book: "Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit" by Richard Griswold del Castillo, and Richard A. Garcia

*Guest speakers (union supporter; nonsupporter)

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1) Value Whips.

To introduce Dolores Huerta and labor unions, present this question to the whole class. "What is one thing you would change about our class? Our school? Our community?" Each student has the opportunity of providing a concise answer. Move quickly throughout the classroom. Keep it fast paced. Allow the students the opportunity to pass once if they can't think of an answer, and come back to them later. This is an activity that all students can succeed in.


2) Cooperative Learning Groups.

Divide the class into cooperative learning groups of 2-4 students. Each cooperative group will be given a section from the book, "Cesar Chavez: Triumph of Spirit," to read together. They will formulate two quiz questions based on their particular section of reading. Then the groups will each prepare a creative 3-5 minute presentation to summarize the main points of the section for the class. After all presentations, there will be a short quiz based on the students' own quiz questions. The teacher will chose five of the student generated quiz questions.


3) Corners.

The teacher will hang four words in the four corners of the classroom. Then the students are asked to close their eyes and decide which of the following words they think best describes the actions of Dolores Huerta: outspoken, determined, enduring, or fearless. With the students eyes still closed, ask those who feel it is "outspoken" to open their eyes and quietly go to that corner. Do the same with the other three words until all students have chosen a corner. (It is important for the students to have their eyes closed to prevent them from choosing a certain word just because their friends have chosen it.) Each of the four groups will then discuss amongst themselves why they chose the way they did, and list the specific reasons for doing so. Each group will choose a spokesperson to present their reasoning to the rest of the class.


4) Venn Diagram.

Students will compare and contrast the characteristics, events, beliefs, background, of themselves to those of Dolores Huerta. Using a Venn Diagram, label one of the circles "Dolores Huerta," and the other circle "Me." The middle, overlapping, portion of the diagram with be "Both." In the first part list characteristics that describe only Dolores, in the "Me" section list characteristics descriptive only of yourself, and list any commonalities of the two in the middle.


5) Guest Speakers.

After introducing the concept of labor unions to the students, invite an individual who supports and is involved with unions to come share their views with the class. Invite someone who does not support unions to come on another day and share the opposing viewpoint so that the students will get a chance to see both sides. Be sure to prepare a set of class/individual questions to ask the presenters before each visit.


6) Guided Discussion.

After guest speakers have visited the class, provide the students with an opportunity to explore their own viewpoints. Arrange the room to provide students with the opportunity for as much interaction as possible. A circle or horseshoe arrangement would be appropriate. Involve all students in the discussion, discourage domination, ask open ended questions, and help students to feel comfortable about sharing their ideas with the rest of the class. Limit teacher talk, but do keep the discussion focused on the topic of labor unions and reform. Remind the students that sometimes it is necessary to "agree to disagree." Ask questions like: What are some advantages of organizing labor unions? What are some disadvantages?


7) Interactive Journal.

Each student will write their reactions to the guest speakers and their definition of a labor union in a three-way interactive journal. First the students write their feelings, thoughts, and questions. Then the teacher reacts to what the student has recorded. Finally, the journal is sent home and the parent or guardian responds to what is written in the journal.


8) Think-Pair-Share.

Individually, have students think again of things they would like to change about the class, school, or community. Then in pairs, have the students share their ideas with each other. Finally, as a whole class record a list of all student response on chart paper.


9) Service Project.

Dolores Huerta saw a need and did something about it. Her efforts helped improve farm workers' conditions. As a class identify and choose something in the class, school, or community that needs reform, change, or improvement. Devise a plan of action to take to improve the situation. It is important that students feel ownership of the project. Be flexible, open minded, and willing to make a difference.

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1) Participation in the Value Whips activity will be assessed informally by observation.

2) A simple checklist based on accuracy of information presented, uniqueness of the presentation, and participation of all members in the presentation will serve as part of the Cooperative Learning Group assessment. The other part will come from the student generated quiz.

3) Ability to orally express reasoning behind choosing a certain corner will be assessed anecdotally.

4) The Venn Diagram activity will be assessed with a rubric based on the students effort, appropriate placement of contrasting/comparing characteristics within the diagram, and accurate information.

5) Students will be assessed informally through observation regarding their respect toward, participation with, and questions asked of the guest speakers.

6) The Guided Discussion will be assessed anecdotally on contribution, interaction, and being on task.

7) Interactive Journals and student definitions of labor unions will be assessed informally when the teacher responds to the entry.

8) Student lists of what they would like to change about their class, school, or community will be assessed informally.

9) Each student's contribution and willingness to complete the class service project will be assessed anecdotally.

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