"Being inducted into the California Hall of Fame is a recognition that is verifying my life and what I have been through and the life I have lived so far. I have always and will always continue to push for change so let this be an open invitation for all of us to do the same." -- Dolores Huerta
SACRAMENTO -- She was the first person the late labor leader César E. Chávez called when he needed help organizing farmworkers in the 1960s.
An early supporter of then gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and a successful community organizer with the Community Service Organization and an expert negotiator in her later role with the National Farmworkers Association (which later became the United Farm Workers of America), Dolores Huerta had already built up a name for herself long before she became a household name.
In 1972 she was selected co-chair of the Democratic National Convention.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation which creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement and policy advocacy in the areas of health and environment, education, youth development and economic development.
And in 2011, she was the recipient of the prestigious Medal of Freedom for her community activism, political organizing and influence in the passage of the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975.
That is why it came to no surprise -- except her own -- when Gov. Brown and First Lady Anne Gust, along with The California Museum, announced the latest inductees to the 7th annual California Hall of Fame last Tuesday evening.
The only woman and the only Latina to make the 2013 list is 82-year-old Huerta.
"I was really surprised. It's really quite wonderful and I feel honored to have been nominated along with other great leaders in California," said Huerta during a telephone interview.
She received the news in Washington, D.C. following President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
For Huerta -- who has long championed for the rights of farmworkers to organize and have better working conditions and wages -- has also spearheaded women's issues, addressed important environmental problems in her participation with the Chicano and feminist movements.
"I have been very blessed to have participated in so many important parts of our nations history and I am honored to be doing what needs to be done. People need to know the importance of getting involved," said Huerta.
Huerta has her admirers.
"What sets her apart is this real lack of fear concerning people who need to be confronted and really directly confronting the opposition. She is not afraid to get out there. She is one of the most fearless people I have ever known," said Irv Hershenbaum, a long-time colleague who credits Huerta for his work with the UFW which dates back to the early 1970s.
Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, who has known Huerta his entire life, welcomed the news.
"She is a living icon who inspires a whole generation of women, Californians and activists. But, what I really enjoy about her is this ability she has to ignite fire within people to go out there and make a difference in their communities," said Salas.
Huerta -- who was instrumental in getting Salas elected to the Assembly -- became an active supporter early on producing television commercials in both English and Spanish and organizing to get people registered to vote.
"My family has known Dolores for decades, from the marches to the boycotts to working side-by-side on issues together long before I became an elected official. There is a lot she doesn't have to do, but she does it anyway because she wants change and is willing to work hard to get it," said Salas.
Huerta will receive a 'Spirit of California' medal during the scheduled March 20 ceremony at The California Museum.
The award was established in 2006 by the museum and former First Lady Maria Shriver to honor legendary people who embody California's innovative spirit and have made their mark on history.
"I may be the only Latina to be recognized this year, but I know there are many wise Latinas that deserve this honor," said Huerta.
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