New public archives will share wisdom, artifacts from Dolores Huerta’s lifetime of successful social change leadership

Dolores Huerta sitting with a young women holding an old photograph and talking
Dolores Huerta talks with a UCSC student and signs a copy of a historic photograph of Huerta speaking at a rally. UCSC is partnering with the Dolores Huerta Foundation to develop a new archive that will share writings, records, and artifacts from Huerta's activism. Photo: Devi Pride Photography

UC Santa Cruz received a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to help establish new public archives documenting the legacy of social justice activist Dolores Huerta, through a partnership with the Dolores Huerta Foundation. UCSC will hire a project archivist and two new postdoctoral scholars to support development of Huerta’s archives and to produce related research and education materials. 

Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962 and has spent more than 60 years leading community organizing efforts. Her impact as a labor leader reshaped the country, earning her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her subsequent work, including through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, has tackled issues like gender discrimination, voter registration, education reform, LGBTQ rights, and economic inequality. 

“Part of Dolores Huerta’s image is very tied to United Farm Workers, and rightfully so, but there's a much deeper and richer story,” said Professor Sylvanna Falcón, former director of UC Santa Cruz’s Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas and faculty lead for the new archiving project. “My hope is that these future archives can more holistically portray her legacy.”  

At 94 years old, Huerta is still tirelessly dedicated to her organizing efforts, and that includes building up a new generation of leaders. She believes the archives can support that goal. 

“I hope that my life’s work of organizing and empowering people on a grassroots level will help inspire people to realize they have personal power and the responsibility to take action to preserve democracy for fair political representation,” Huerta said. “It takes time and lots of hard work to build a movement, but we learn lessons all along the way, and the changes that we end up making by working together are long-lasting and transformative.”

To share Huerta’s story, the University Library at UC Santa Cruz, led by University Librarian Elizabeth Cowell, will hire a project archivist for a three-year term to work in partnership with the Dolores Huerta Foundation on inventorying, organizing, and providing public access to Huerta’s personal papers and records from her work with the foundation. UC Santa Cruz alumnus and award-winning director Peter Bratt will also grant the archiving team access to extensive research from his acclaimed documentary, Dolores

Teresa Mora, head of special collections at the University Library, will oversee the archivist’s work. She said the project will contribute to a nationwide push for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in archives. 

“Establishing these archives is important both to honor and learn from Dolores Huerta’s legacy, and also as a critical corrective to national archives more broadly,” Mora explained. “Women, especially women of color, are often grossly underrepresented, if not excluded, on a national level, but this project can help to change that. Dolores Huerta has always worked to open doors for women of color, so this project aims to carry that same energy into the archiving world.”

The archive development will take place at the Bakersfield headquarters of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and will include preserving records of the foundation’s groundbreaking work, which has been led over the years by Dolores Huerta and Camila Chávez, the executive director of the foundation. Chávez and Lori de Leon, the archival project director for the foundation, are Huerta’s daughters, and they have both been on the frontlines working for social justice since childhood. De Leon, in particular, has long dreamed of establishing archives for her mother. 

“I’ve spent over 55 years at the forefront of the movement, realizing the importance of my mother’s influential work, and along the way, I have collected and preserved important artifacts pertaining to her activism,” de Leon said. “This new partnership with UC Santa Cruz will allow us to capture and share these treasures with the public, with the purpose of inspiring future generations to become civically engaged.” 

All materials that will be included in the archive will remain at the Dolores Huerta Foundation headquarters and with Huerta's family. As the archive develops, the foundation and UCSC will work together to determine what infrastructure will be needed to ensure public access to the completed archives.

In support of those efforts, UC Santa Cruz’s Latin American and Latino Studies Department will also hire two new postdoctoral scholars in Latinx studies, who will be affiliated with the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas. During their two-year appointments, they’ll work to demonstrate how materials from the archives can be used for research and education that engages with Huerta’s formidable legacy. 

The project’s postdoctoral scholars will also be eligible for the UC faculty hiring incentive, which could result in tenure-track assistant professorships afterward. UC Santa Cruz faculty members Catherine Ramirez, professor and chair of Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS), and Jessica Taft, professor of LALS and current faculty director of the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas, will help to support the project, alongside Falcón. 

Looking toward the future, Armando Bengochea, a senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation who is supporting the project, said that the foundation is excited about the impact Huerta’s archives could have. The Mellon Foundation’s Higher Learning and Public Knowledge programs are collaborating to fund the archiving initiative. The foundation sees Huerta’s legacy as a perfect fit with the mission of those programs. 

“We are especially focused on narratives such as the one that will be told through this marvelous archive; Huerta has spent a lifetime challenging injustices and advocating for the vulnerable and the marginalized,” Bengochea said. “Dolores Huerta is an American icon who has inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps, and we hope that her archives will allow that process to continue far into the future.”