Peter Bratt, Director 2017 | 97 minutes
ABOUT THE FILM
Dolores Huerta is among the most important, yet least known, activists in American history. An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez, her enormous contributions have gone largely unrecognized. Dolores tirelessly led the fight for racial and labor justice alongside Chavez, becoming one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century—and she continues the fight to this day, at 87. With intimate and unprecedented access to this intensely private mother to eleven, the film reveals the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change.
In 2009, in the days leading up to the commercial release of LA MISSION (my second feature), Latino activists around the nation put out a call asking people and businesses across the country to boycott the state of Arizona for passing SB-1070, a controversial senate bill that essentially gave police permission to racially profile Latinos. Faced with the dilemma of whether or not to go to Arizona to promote the film, I called activist and community elder Dolores Huerta for her advice. Before I could finish explaining my conundrum, Dolores insisted that “Our Latino people need stories like this more than ever. Not only should you go, but I’ll go with you!”
And so – true to her word – she did go with me and helped introduce the film. The primarily Latino audience was nervous about the national conversation surrounding the fate of our culture and our people, and by Dolores' estimation, in need of reassurance that we are immovably, undeniably, permanently here to stay – as we have always been. Of course, they loved her. She was at once calming and inciting, the warmth and charisma of her presence was undeniable. I was, in a word, amazed.
You see, as a child of the movement, the son of a single Peruvian Indian mother who marched with Dolores and celebrated labor leader Cesar Chavez back in the early 70’s, I chanted “brown is beautiful” at 10 years of age, and held them both in a kind of awed respect for their work and their reputation. And now, here I was, hosting Q&A’s with Dolores Huerta – “Super Chicana” – in an Arizona multiplex. Rapt, I watched her warm interaction and tireless enthusiasm with the audience that day, and I wondered why there wasn’t yet a film about such an important and influential figure. I specifically remember thinking, “If only I was a documentary filmmaker…”
Then one day, some five years later – just like in the movies – the phone rang. The person on the other end was rock music icon Carlos Santana. In a mysterious and quietly urgent voice he whispered, “We need to make a documentary about sister Dolores, while she’s still with us.” There was little doubt in my mind that this was not so much a question as it was a cultural directive, an artist's call to action from one storyteller to another to fulfill a historical obligation. Even in the silence immediately following his words, we both knew there was only one way for me to respond. And yet I panicked, in part because I knew nothing about making a doc – but more to the point, because I knew that a truly worthy story would have to present not simply a courageous iconic figure and her list of triumphs, but a fully fleshed human being, warts and all. With both excitement and trepidation, I replied, "What do you have in mind?" As it turned out, the answer was quite a lot.
In the copious volumes written about legendary civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and how he formed the first farm workers’ union in America, there is comparatively little mentioned about Dolores Huerta, his equal partner and co-founder of the union, an equally formidable labor leader and civil rights organizer who had fought (and to this day still fights) tirelessly for the liberation of workers, women, and immigrants for nearly seven decades. Why was this? What had happened? Was her story lost accidentally, or left out deliberately? Why had she been erased? 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. Directly, calmly. Her voice. Her life. Her words.
As we worked on the film, Dolores’ voice revealed a woman both heroic and flawed. Her courage in speaking without filters deepened the narrative and naturally delivered a framework within which to organize the reams of material I had unearthed. Processing Dolores’ story and attempting to put it into a larger historical context ultimately begged the question—who decides what history is? Who decides which stories are told? And who gets to tell them?
In this consolidated, never-before-seen collection of personal memories, historical documentation and compelling first-person narrative, Dolores Huerta emerges as more than just a footnote to 20th century America - she proves to be a true American hero. And like many great figures held in an equally high regard, she is also revealed to be utterly mortal, a woman whose unconventional choices and personal sacrifices expose her humanity.
My hope is that people might now see Dolores' story as part of their own, one that perhaps allows them to more fully, more honestly, understand the last 50 years in America’s history and how it connects to and informs where we find ourselves today.