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Albuquerque honors ‘a living icon’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Spitting rain and chill in the air didn’t dampen the festive mood reverberating in Albuquerque’s South Valley on Saturday morning when a local park was renamed after a social justice advocate with New Mexico roots.

Gateway Park at Isleta and Bridge SW is now Dolores Huerta Gateway Park, in honor of the activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez.

Dolores Huerta, center, marches with family members, including Maya Tushka, front left, and Emilio Huerta, third from left, during the annual César Chávez Day march in Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/Journal)

The ceremony was attended by many of her relatives, along with hundreds of residents and local officials. Poets read their works aloud, children from area elementary schools sang songs, and several New Mexico political figures spoke.

After the ceremony, hundreds of people in attendance launched the parade that started Albuquerque’s 24th César Chávez Day to honor the man who, alongside Huerta, fought for the rights of farmworkers. The city celebrates the day every year with a march and a festival, which took place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Chávez died in 1993, and his birthday, March 31, is celebrated annually across the country.

But the day in Albuquerque began with a ceremony to honor 86-year-old Huerta, who was born in Dawson, which is now a ghost town, in Colfax County. As a young child, Huerta moved to California, where she lived for most of her life. But she said she still has family here and comes back to the state as often as possible.

Estefany Gonzalez, front right, and Keily Castro, front left, chant while marching in the annual César Chávez Day march. (Marla Brose/Journal)

Estefany Gonzalez, front right, and Keily Castro, front left, chant while marching in the annual César Chávez Day march. (Marla Brose/Journal)

“People ask me, ‘Where did you get this whole idea of social justice?’ and basically it comes back to New Mexico,” Huerta said to cheers. “I say to people, it should be a law in the United States that everybody should come to New Mexico to get a taste of humanity.”

Huerta delivered a speech that touched on various social justice and current political issues.

She made references to President Trump, without saying his name, and stressed the importance of supporting labor unions, children’s education, Latinos and immigrants and immigration reform.

“If our citizens are not educated, all we have is mob rule, and the greedy and the powerful take over,” she said. “And we have seen the manifestation of that in a current society right now and our current political scheme of things.”

Huerta hasn’t retired from activism, saying she was recently part of a group that sued a school district for their high rate of minority student expulsions.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall praised Huerta’s accomplishments. He urged the audience to keep up their enthusiasm for social justice.

“Dolores became one of the most well-known and effective organizers in America. She got things done,” Udall said in his speech. “Dolores got it done and we can get it done, too. Sí, se puede.” (The Spanish phrase coined by Huerta and Chávez can be translated as “yes, we can.”)

Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz talked about growing up picking onions in the summer near Hatch. He said when he was 9, he worked from 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., picking the vegetables on his knees in 100-degree heat without breaks.

“I think you’re beginning to get an idea of why Dolores’ work was so important,” he told the crowd.

Felisha Rojan-Minjares, a family doctor, attended the ceremony, because many of her patients are immigrants who are worried about health care. She was preparing to join a group of family doctors for the march that followed.

“As a native of New Mexico herself, it’s great to have her as a representative of strength and unity and working for those who work in the field,” she said.

Susan Hedrick, an elementary school teacher, said she taught her students about Huerta this week and the students did a day of service to honor her achievements.

“This lady is like a living icon,” she said, “and she’s still with us and she’s showing us all how to be nonviolent activists.”