by Josefina López
The award-winning screenwriter (Real Women Have Curves), playwright, and activist López writes her own personal perspective on her connection to and parallels with Dolores Huerta’s story.
I am all dressed up in an evening gown ready to go out to an event where I will be honored for my activism, and I am to give an inspiring acceptance speech as a representative of the Latino community for a union that works with Latino workers — when my six-year-old son begs me not to go. I tell him, “I’m sorry, I have to go receive an award.” He cries back, “Again? You did that last week!” I had been receiving awards for writing a play [Detained in the Desert; see more below] in defiance of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant bill in Arizona that gave police officers the right to racially profile Latinos.
My son cries because he wants me to stay home to play with him and my heart breaks because I feel like an awful mother. I always remember that moment when people ask me what’s the hardest thing about being an artist, activist, entrepreneur and a mother. I tell them, “I can handle long work days, self-sacrifice, racism, sexism, men getting in my face for being so outspoken, and so much rejection of my ideas and my work in Hollywood, but seeing my son crying because I’m not there to play with him crushes me.”
When I saw Dolores, the documentary on Dolores Huerta, I cried recognizing that when her children talk about her being too busy, organizing the farmworkers, to be there for them, that it’s probably what my son will say about me, too. When I found out Dolores had 11 children and still, along with Cesar Chavez, managed to unionize farm workers, I was blown away.
It’s hard enough with two kids being a community activist, so I can only imagine how hard it must have been with 11 children having angry grape growers threatening your life for wanting to give farmers a fair wage. It’s inspiring to see a woman who was willing to give up everything to help people who had nothing. She was willing to sacrifice her comforts and her reputation as a mother to do what she knew in her heart and soul was right.
Instead of using the excuse that she was a mother, to not listen to her heart telling her to fight for the voiceless, she trusted herself, and out of love for her people and her humanity, she chose to stand up and fight. The reason feminists like me say “the personal is political” is because a revolution starts with self-love. With self-love a woman can challenge patriarchy and all the systems that tell her she has no worth because she wasn’t born a man.
I was outraged when people criticized Dolores for being a mother and an activist. What people and children don’t understand is that sometimes becoming a mother is what instigates you to fight harder for a better world. Sometimes when you don’t have the courage to fight for yourself you will take up arms for your children and for those weaker than yourself.
It is through mothers that you build community, by teaching children through example that you must not cower to power, that you must work towards something more powerful than yourself, and that individuals are powerful when they affirm their humanity by refusing to allow others to dehumanize them. When women and mothers fight for justice they encourage more women to speak up and fight alongside the men. Justice and fairness can only happen when those who are considered the weakest in society are valued and given the same opportunities as men.
I squirmed when Dolores Huerta was made to apologize for being a real woman who had to divorce men who wanted her to stay put, small, and silent. Why is it her fault that she has to grow up in a patriarchal society that forces women to marry in order to exist? I know what it is to be a several times-divorced Latina who felt so much pressure to get married, and know how important it is to make mistakes and learn from them.
So much of the wisdom from Dolores comes from her mistakes. “A woman cannot decide what she wants to do with her life until she can decide if she wants children and, if so, how many,” she realized later on in life, which allowed her to be a more empowered feminist.
History is filled with great men who fought the good fight, but because it’s his-story women like Dolores get left out. It’s important that her story and her contributions as a union organizer and activist are not erased or forgotten. Her contribution to the environmentalist movement must be known because, thanks to her, environmental justice includes people of color.
Hopefully seeing her story will ensure that more women, and especially Latinas who are always told to stay quiet and be invisible, will see that they, too, have a story and can contribute to humanity in their way.
I love Dolores’ audacity to believe that the grape growers needed to see the farmworker as their equal because he was dependent on the farmworker and there needed to be a fair exchange. This acknowledgment is a powerful insight that a woman brings to a struggle. All women’s stories are a contribution to humanity because they teach us about the incredible creativity, resiliency, humanity and dignity it takes to be oppressed and still thrive.
How beautiful and poetic that Dolores’ name means “pain.”
She was willing to feel other people’s suffering and fought on their behalf so they wouldn’t suffer anymore. I am so grateful for her struggle, because I know it has made mine a little easier. Watching Dolores made me realize that as a Chicana feminist I am not alone. All my struggles have been fights that Dolores already had and survived. I, too, feel that no matter what I do I will never be seen as an American by those who question my right to exist and to be in this country, so I must define for myself what is to be an American and tell myself that I already am one because I am fighting for the ideals of this country as a beacon of hope for the underdog.
She reminds me to keep being a big mouth and a straight talker because there aren’t enough people willing to sacrifice their comfort and reputation to do what is right. She also reminds me that with purpose one can live a long life and still have the life force and passion to dance.
Josefina fervently believes that to write is how we become visible. See more of her story in her TED Talk:
Josefina López, writer, activist, and restaurateur, is best known for authoring the play and co-authoring the screenplay for the 2002 Sundance Audience Award-winning film Real Women Have Curves. Josefina started her writing career at 17 and has had over 80 productions of her many plays throughout the country. Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1969, Josefina Lopez was five years old when she and her family migrated to the United States and settled in Boyle Heights. Josefina was undocumented for 13 years and still managed to get an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA’s School of Film & Television. She is the Founding Artistic Director of CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights and co-owner of the nearby Casa Fina Restaurant & Cantina.