New Dolores Huerta documentary to screen at Aspen Institute’s New Views series |

New Dolores Huerta documentary to screen at Aspen Institute’s New Views series

Dolores Huerta at a press conference in 1975. The new documentary "Dolores" chronicles her life and work.
Courtesy Walter P. Reuther Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University |

If You Go …

What: ‘Dolores,’ presented by the Aspen Institute and Aspen Film

Where: Paepcke Audutorium

When: Sunday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.

How much: $20

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

More info: Huerta’s son, Emilio, will be featured ina post-screening discussion with his mother joining via Skype.

Dolores Huerta co-founded United Farm Workers and inspired change-makers from Robert F. Kennedy to Gloria Steinem. Over the past seven decades she’s been on the front lines fighting for rights for laborers, women and immigrants.

President Barack Obama awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 (and cribbed his “Yes we can” slogan from her in 2008 by simply translating Huerta’s clarion call “Si se puede” of decades past).

And yet, in the history books, she’s largely ignored or outshined by Cesar Chavez. To find out why, filmmaker Peter Bratt has made the new documentary, “Dolores,” which screens Sunday at the Aspen Institute and Aspen Film New Views series at Paepcke Auditorium, and went straight to the source herself.

Now 87, the rebel, activist, feminist and mother of 11 looks back on her life in the fast-paced film, blending troves of archival footage with interviews with family, fellow activists and leaders like Angela Davis, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. “Dolores” drew widespread acclaim after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, is scheduled for release in theaters on Sept. 1 and will be broadcast on PBS’ “Independent Lens” series in February.

“Everything in that movie is so relevant to today. The same issues that we were fighting for in the ’60s and ’70s we are fighting for today. The environmental movement was starting then, the gay movement, the second wave of the women’s movement. All of those, we are still fighting for today.”Dolores Huerta

Huerta visited Aspen this summer for the Aspen Ideas Festival to talk about the new film, her life and her activism on a panel with Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas and journalist James Fallows.

She credited the film’s creation to the guitarist Carlos Santana.

“The film was Carlos Santana’s idea,” Huerta explained. “Somehow he thought there should be a film about me.”

Santana executive produced the movie and Bratt got on board last year. Huerta was not intimately involved in its production — “I was too busy on the campaign trail,” the indefatigable activist said — but was pleased with the final product.

“I was amazed at some of the archival footage that they found,” she said. “There are scenes I don’t even remember myself.”

The film follows Huerta from her early life, when she dreamed of becoming a dancer, through the unionization of field laborers in California and the Delano grape strike of 1965 and into her later work for women and immigrants. Though many of the events “Dolores” chronicles took place a half-century ago, Huerta noted, it speaks directly to the American tumult of 2017.

“Everything in that movie is so relevant to today,” Huerta said. “The same issues that we were fighting for in the ’60s and ’70s we are fighting for today. The environmental movement was starting then, the gay movement, the second wave of the women’s movement. All of those we are still fighting for today.”

The film forcefully argues that sexism kept her from being recognized alongside Chavez during the labor battles in California, when it was unpalatable for a mother to eschew family duties for activism, and in the years since.

“Why had she been erased?” Bratt asks in a statement on the film. “It didn’t make sense. But it made for a great story. After interviewing farm workers, scholars, politicians, feminists, labor historians, and 10 of her 11 biological children, one thing became crystal clear: her erasure from the historical record was deliberate. And if Dolores had been excised, then only she could tell her story.”

Never one to rest on her laurels, Huerta has been traveling with the film since Sundance, and using it as an opportunity to inspire and encourage people to get involved in the political process on a local level.

“Get involved with your local Democratic party or Green party or Republican party,” she told the Ideas Fest crowd. “Get involved at the local level. We need to get people elected.”

Huerta, who was born in New Mexico, pointed to her family history as evidence of how American prejudice is rarely more than skin deep. Her great-grandfather fought for the Union in the Civil War. Her father fought for the U.S. in World War II. And yet, she said, her American-ness is still questioned. People of color, even those with such a storied history in the U.S., still face bigotry.

“Every day we face microaggressions where people don’t recognize you or challenge you,” she said. “I don’t know what we can do to be American.”

She characterized the more overt racism that’s emerged in the U.S. in the Trump era as an opportunity — when racism is easier to call out, she argued, it might be easier to fight.

“In today’s world, racism is identifiable,” she said. “It’s so out in the open now. When people call themselves the ‘alt-right’ and the white supremacists are willing to say who they are, we can easily identify it. Of course, people of color know it’s always been here. It’s in the drinking water. It’s endemic in our society at so many different levels. But now that it’s identified and we can see what a cancer it is on our society.”

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