U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, along with poets Arlene Biala and Diana García, debuted brand new poems based on the life and trials of revolutionary labor worker Dolores Huerta, early this morning (Mar. 9). The civil rights leader and United Farm Workers co-founder is the first Latina to be added to the innovative exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Portrait Gallery, which honors real-life American heroes.
“If no one else does it, we’ll do it. Sí se puede, Dolores. Bottom line still in 2016, more food more clean water,” poets read during their performance. “Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk, work for justice.”
The Dolores Huerta exhibit is the latest addition to the Gallery’s “One Life” series that honors revered individuals who have made major contributions to life in the U.S. The exhibit, filled with various works of art, will focus on her life as the co-founder the United Farm Workers (UFW) alongside Cesar Chavez. It also highlights her position as the union’s lobbyist and contract negotiator.
“After all these years, more food, more peace, that is what you taught us,” Herrera continued. “Use the feet, use the hands, each step kisses the earth… Walking for change for the good, for the usurped. The difference is your red knit vest, small enough to be a child’s, with the black eagle soaring across the room toward us. Walk with us into history, fly with us into better lives, more food, clean water. Qué viva la causa!”
Huerta makes history as the first Latina to be included in the series. Her extraordinary exhibit also falls during the 50th anniversary of the pivotal 1965 grape strike, which resulted in the farm workers union’s first contract with growers after five years of boycotting. The Smithsonian is also the first national museum to draw attention to her contributions.
“She’s the one who presented the cases to the agribusiness lawyers ensuring through contractual agreements the farm workers’ demands. Those big powerful legal experts and corporate owners could not handle and win over their argument when they faced Dolores, because she was that great of a negotiator,” said Herrera to NBC News. “She stood up to the powerful forces when no one could really do so. She has courage, compassion and perseverance. She is a real fighter for the rights of human beings.”
Herrera, who grew up as the son of a migrant worker, said it was an honor to create the tribute for Huerta because it was “very personal” to him. The 11th installment in the “One Life” series is set to be on display at the Smithsonian through May 15.