Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, spoke at the annual LULAC conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Aug. 5. Huerta, 93, was born in New Mexico but raised in California. She spoke about several key themes – abortion rights, gay rights, the importance of voting and dangers facing our democracy heading into the 2024 election.

“We’re facing a crisis in democracy,” she told members of LULAC, which was founded in 1929, making it the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S. She noted that LULAC is just one year older than she.

“Democracy will not live unless we participate,” she added.

Huerta said we should not criminalize women when they need an abortion.

“I say this as the mother of 11 children. My own children don’t want to be that reproductive, you might say. Some of my children have one or two kids and some of my children have zero kids. And that’s fine with me. I don’t think I should tell my children how many children they should have. I don’t think that any politician or religious leader should tell any woman how many children she should have or what she can do with her own body. The only person who should determine what a woman wants to do with her own body is herself,” Huerta said.

She also said that Latino families should find ways to talk about this hot button issue.

“How many children a  woman wants to have or not have, that is her human right,” she added.

Huerta also spoke in favor gay marriage.

“They use the issues of abortion and gay marriage to divide us. Because the only way they can possibly win is if they keep us divided,” she said. 

Huerta also spoke about the need to get out the vote for the 2024 election. One of the greatest challenges is convincing people of the importance of their vote.

Huerta told a story about how once she canvassed in San Antonio door to door. She knocked on the doors of Latino families. Some people told her with pride: “Aquí en esta casa no votamos,” or “In this house we do not vote.”

She said this happened at house after house. Then she finally knocked on one door and the mother recognized her. “Señora Huerta, what are you doing here in Texas?” she asked.

Huerta replied, “I’m campaigning to get out the vote.”

The woman told her, “Don’t worry, me and my three daughters already voted.”

Huerta explained that the woman had just moved to San Antonio, Texas from Salinas, California.

“I know in Texas it’s difficult for people to register to vote,” she explained that there are obstacles and more restrictive voting laws in Texas compared to California.

She told the crowd that we needed to pay special attention to Texas. She called for a freedom summer in Texas. She called on Latinos from other states to go to Texas emulating what happened in the Black civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“Whether we’re from California, or the Midwest or from Puerto Rico, wherever we’re from we’ve got to do something about Texas,” she said, adding.“It’s not just about Texas but they influence the whole country.”

She told the LULACers that she heard reports of some members from California being kicked out of LULAC. Although Huerta did not mention it, there also are reports of some LULAC members from Puerto Rico being suspended and moves to limit the influence of Puerto Ricans in the organization founded by Mexican Americans.

“You also have to fight for democracy within your own organization,” Huerta told the attendees.

She said Latinos have to stop working against each other and their own interests.

“We’re going to be going into the most important election probably in our lifetime in 2024. There are forces of evil out there that are trying to use us in the Latino community. And they’re having success in turning our people to work against themselves,” she said.

She called on all Latinos to organize and participate.

“In our Latino community we have so much potential. We actually can decide the future of the United States of America because of our numbers, of who we are,” she said.

“We have to apply bravery and courage if we’re going to save our country and our democracy,” she added.

Huerta ended her speech by leading the crowd in chants of “Whose got power? We got the power! What kind of power? People power! Are we ready to use our power? ¡Sí se puede!

Yes we can, Dolores. 

Teresa Puente has spent her career reporting on immigration and Latino issues in the U.S. and has also reported extensively from Mexico. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and...