2017, NR, 95 min. Directed by Peter Bratt.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 6, 2017
Most Americans could tell you who Cesar Chavez was, if only because there’s hardly a town anywhere in the country that doesn’t have a street, school, or monument named after the labor organizer and founder of the United Farm Workers Union who, from the Sixties until his death in 1993, used the nonviolent tactics of marches, boycotts, and hunger strikes to champion civil liberties and protections for the country’s field workers, who were predominantly Mexican-American. Chavez’s name is numero uno on any list of Chicano activists. But ask the same people to identify the work and legacy of Dolores Huerta, and you’ll be met by mostly blank stares. Those who do recognize her may regard her as Chavez’s primary sidekick, or a labor co-organizer. Peter Bratt’s documentary about Huerta’s life sets out to correct that deferential impression, and claim her rightful legacy as an indefatigable leader of the farm workers’ movement.
Dolores Huerta is the kind of figure who can count on people as diverse as Carlos Santana, Hillary Clinton, Angela Davis, and Nancy Pelosi to sing her praises. She founded the farmworkers’ union with Chavez, and rallied tirelessly on its behalf. She was an outspoken activist and public speaker, as well as the mother of 11 children over the course of three relationships. She would regularly leave her children with friends and family to go off on marches or give speeches, making her pretty unconventional, even by Sixties standards. Her now-grown children are given a lot of space in the film to discuss the ill effects this type of parenting had on their development, even though they are proud of their mother’s achievements and understand her choices in retrospect. Their contributions help make Dolores a well-rounded look at the woman, presenting some of her flaws along with her remarkable accomplishments. Although Huerta lived her feminism, her embrace of that ideology came later in life, perhaps as she witnessed her legacy becoming obscured by the great shadow cast by Chavez and his memory.
What’s clear is that after watching Dolores, this woman becomes an unforgettable figure in the annals of Mexican-American history, the workers’ rights struggles, and feminist legacies. Huerta, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, is the living embodiment of a grassroots organizer. She is the one who came up with the phrase, Sí, se puede, a phrase Barack Obama anglicized into “Yes, we can!”