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Activist Dolores Huerta offers fiery kick-off for National Hispanic Heritage Month at ECC

Latino Heritage Month at ECC

For a complete list of Latino Heritage Month at Elgin Community College, visit

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Updated: October 15, 2013 7:04AM

ELGIN — If the fire alarm didn’t wake up the 280 people celebrating the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month at the 24th annual kickoff breakfast Thursday morning at Elgin Community College, the chanting led by celebrated social activist Dolores Huerta did.

Huerta called out, “Who got the power?” to the response, “We got the power.” “What kind of power?” to, “People power!” She clapped as she led the packed University Business Center in choruses of “Si se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”)

President Barack Obama admitted he’d stolen the slogan from her, she said.

Huerta’s keynote speech was an energetic start to the community college’s celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The month celebrates the anniversaries of the independence of Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras.

“I think it’s good to celebrate the music and the foods and the arts, but I also think maybe we need to share some of the values of the Latino culture,” Huerta said.

Among them, she said, are values placed on family, on celebrating everything and on “sharing instead of competing. That would be a new norm, huh?”

Huerta is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Her most recent recognitions include her induction into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor, the 2011 Icons of the Civil Rights Movement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum and the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

‘Racism’ charge

Last month, she was invited to speak at the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., she said.

“We can say that we’ve made a lot of progress ... but there’s a lot that remains to be done still,” she said.

Huerta pointed to what she called instances of “institutional racism” that she said continue to this day: the disproportionate number of people in jail who are black and Hispanic, the high number of students expelled from schools who are black and Hispanic, the underrepesentation of black and Hispanic populations on school boards and administrations and in the legislature.

She pointed to a number of factors that cause Latino Americans to immigrate to the U.S., such as the fact more corn is exported from the U.S. to Mexico than is grown in the Latin American country, putting farmers out of business.

And she pointed to the “anti-immigrant hysteria — I want to call it that — we just went through where we saw people maligned and criminalized because they were undocumented.”

“When we look at the history of the United States of America, we have to remind people unless you’re Native American, your people came from somewhere,” Huerta said.

“When we’re saying we want citizenship for the undocumented people who are here now, it’s no different from what we’ve ever done. It’s been the policy of the United States from Day One.”

Huerta quoted widely during her keynote address at the breakfast, from Benito Juarez — “Respecting others’ rights is peace” — to Cornel West — “Justice is the public face of love.” She also quoted the 2006 film starring Jack Black “Nacho Libre”: “I love science.”

That’s because, according to science, all people belong to the same race: the human race, she said.

‘Fiery’ Latinos

She came back with a joke when the breakfast briefly was interrupted by a fire alarm, and everybody was forced to evacuate the University Business Center. That alarm was set off by steam from the dishwashing machines in the center’s kitchen, according to community college spokesman Jeff Julian.

“When we talked about Latino Americans being fiery people, who knew we’d bring out the fire department?” she said.

Later that afternoon, Huerta took part in an open forum at Elgin Community College’s Spartan Auditorium. When asked by a panel of moderators of current community college students and recent graduates what three things she wanted to leave with them after her visit, she said, “Organize, organize, organize.”

“You have to give your time,” she said. “You have to make time to do these social justice issues.”

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