August 22 + 23 | Roulette | Brooklyn

#Speech4Breakfast: Day 6

Dolores Huerta: “Keynote Address before the Annual Convention of the American Public Health Association”

Read by performer Libby King

Dolores Huerta was an American union leader, labor organizer, and Latino American and Women’s rights activist. She co-founded the National Farm Workers’ Association with Cesar Chavez in 1962, and played a pivotal role in the Delano Grape Strike. The NFW protested through nonviolent means including hunger strikes, boycotts, and marches to improve the working and living conditions of migrant farm laborers. This address, given to the American Public Health Association in 1974, focuses on the need for funding for sustainable healthcare infrastructure serving the Farm Workers’ community.

*We recognize that no figure, group, or movement is without complexity. In highlighting each of these speeches, we seek to honor first and foremost the act of speaking truth to power.

We can’t really wait for legislation. You know, there’s a lot of things that we can do right away. I think that the one thing that we’ve learned in our union is that you don’t wait. You just get out and you start doing things. And you do things in such a way that you really help people to lay the foundations that you need.

We don’t have to talk about a charitable outlook. You know, people come in with a lot of money and they give people charity. We’ve got to talk about ways to make people self-sufficient in terms of their medical health. Because when they go in there with charity and then they pull out, then they leave the people worse off than they ever were before. We’ve got to use government money to help people. And I don’t think that this is so radical. Lord knows that the growers are getting billions of dollars not to grow cotton, all kinds of supports and subsidies. Well, if any money is given for medical health, it should stay in that community. It shouldn’t just come in there at the pleasure of the local politicians and be pulled out at the pleasure of the local politicians.

And I don’t think that public health people should be repressed. It worries me when I see a clinic in a farm-worker community that is afraid to put out a Farm Worker flag or put up César’s picture because they are afraid that they are going to get their money taken away from them. And yet this has happened. And this is wrong. But the only reason it happens is because we let it happen. We’ve got to take the side of the people that are being oppressed. And if we can’t do that, then we’re not doing our job, because the people in that minority community or in that community are not going to have any faith in the medical program that is in there if you can’t take their side. They’re going to suspect you. We’ve got to be able to stand up and fight for our rights. We can’t any longer cooperate with any kind of fear, any kind of bigotry, any kind of racism, anything that is wrong. We’ve got to be able to stand up and say, “That is wrong.” And it’s going to take that kind of courage, I think, the same kind of courage that César has taught the farm workers, to make the kind of changes that are needed.

Health, like food, has got to be to cure people, to make people well. It can’t be for profit. Food should be sacred to feed people, not for profit. Health has got to be a right for every person and not a privilege. You would be sad to know that many farm workers—before we had our clinics—had never been to a doctor. And I’m sure like farm workers, there are many, many other people who have never been to a clinic or to a doctor. And many times that is even out of fear because they see the doctor or they see the medical person not as their friend but they see that person as their enemy.

Now I hope that what we have done, our experience, will serve some use to what you’re interested in and what you’re doing. I hope that you will help us get back what we have lost, which are our union contracts, so that we can continue this fantastic health program that we have that we started in California. And you can do this very easily just by not eating any grapes until we win, by not eating any lettuce until we win, and by not drinking any Gallo wine. And I’m saying that lightly. It’s not light. It’s a very serious situation.