UCSC naming Research Center for the Americas in honor of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta

The UCSC Research Center for the Americas will be renamed the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas
The UCSC Research Center for the Americas will be renamed the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas at a 30th anniversary celebration Oct. 20 at the Cowell Hay Barn.
(Via UC Santa Cruz)

For 30 years, the Research Center for the Americas at UC Santa Cruz has been a hub for research on Latin American studies and Chicano/Latino studies. These two fields of study, which focus on the Latin American region and Chicano/Latino people living in the U.S., respectively, while often considered separate, are inextricably linked, director Sylvanna Falcón explains. Falcon says the center’s unique approach is aligned with Dolores Huerta’s advocacy and therefore fit for her name.

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A Q&A with UCSC's Sylvanna Falcón

UC Santa Cruz’s Research Center for the Americas, set to observe its 30th anniversary next month, announced this week it will also be celebrating its new name: the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas.

“I’m thrilled for the campus, and thrilled for our beautiful town of Santa Cruz and our county of Santa Cruz,” said Sylvanna Falcón, center director and associate professor of Latin American and Latino Studies.

Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union with labor rights leader Cesar Chavez in 1962, was instrumental in the fight for better wages and working conditions for farmworkers. Over her 60 years of community organizing, she advocated to address a wide range of civil rights issues from voter registration and women’s rights to LGBTQ rights.

Falcón told Lookout that for years the research center considered Huerta as the eponym for the center because of her legacy and because she’s had a presence in Santa Cruz County and on the UCSC campus as a commencement speaker.

To commemorate the renaming of the center and its 30th anniversary, the university is hosting a celebration on Oct. 20 at the Cowell Hay Barn. Immigrant-rights advocate Cristina Jiménez will give a keynote address followed by a tribute to Huerta.

The 92-year-old activist, who was born in New Mexico and raised in Stockton, was first a teacher, according to the Dolores Huerta Foundation. While working as an organizer for the Stockton Community Service Organization, she established the Agricultural Workers Association and organized voter registration drives. While at the CSO in 1955, she met Chavez, then the organization’s executive director, and several years later they founded United Farm Workers.

Within a few years, her lobbying efforts in California helped secure aid for dependent families and disability insurance for farmworkers in 1963. The foundation says Huerta was also integral in the adoption of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which granted California farmworkers the right to organize and bargain for better pay and working conditions.

To this day, she continues advocating for civil rights across the country and pushing for legislation.

Huerta has received numerous awards recognizing her contributions. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the following year she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

It’s this legacy, Falcón said, that the UCSC center aspires to emulate with its research. Part of the Division of Social Sciences and housed at the Casa Latina at Merrill College, the center brings together over 90 faculty from a range of disciplines. Formerly named the Chicano Latino Research Center, the RCA fuses Chicanx/Latinx and Latin American studies.

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Falcón became director in 2018, the same year it was renamed to the Research Center for the Americas. In 2019, she founded the Human Rights Investigations Lab there, where each year about 30 undergraduate students can participate in faculty-led research.

With the renaming of the center to the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas, the center announced a fundraising initiative to expand its research and professional opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students.

To start, the center launched a crowdfunding campaign with $50,000 in matching funds donated by the The Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation. Falcón said the center hasn’t reached a total amount it’s seeking to raise as many parts of the collaborations with the Dolores Huerta Foundation are still being planned.

The center will also be taking part in a multiyear project to continue work already started by Huerta and her foundation to create a publicly accessible archive of Huerta’s life and contributions.

Sylvanna Falcón, director of Research Center for the Americas at UC Santa Cruz.
Sylvanna Falcón, director of Research Center for the Americas at UC Santa Cruz.
(Via Sylvanna Falcón)

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Lookout: How did the Research Center for the Americas get the naming rights?

Sylvanna Falcón: At UCSC, we rename our colleges after inspiring people and we thought at the research center, we should follow with a similar kind of practice on the campus. And so we’ve been looking and thinking about whose name, whose life, and whose legacy and impact, would merit the attention and deserve the kind of effort that it takes to do a naming process. Who was worth it, and [Huerta’s] name just kept coming up over and over again, at least since 2013 or 2014.

For different reasons, stars weren’t aligning, timing just wasn’t right or capacity just wasn’t there since then. Whatever the reasons were, we just couldn’t quite make it happen before.

And then, an alum from UC Santa Cruz, Peter Bratt, produced the documentary on her life (“Dolores”). It was a PBS award-winning documentary, a fantastic film, in 2018. It just seemed like OK, here’s another UCSC connection with Dolores Huerta. Now we have this very talented filmmaker producing and directing this really powerful documentary. So we started talking again about how we could pick up this effort and make it happen.

Later, I was at the John R. Lewis renaming event [in October 2021] on our campus, and I just thought, “Maybe I need to bring this back to the committee. We need to really make the effort to see if we can make this happen.” And Peter is on our distinguished alumni board at the research center. So I had reached out to Peter and I said, “You know, we’re going to be starting these conversations again, what do you think about renaming the center in her honor?” And he said, “I could not be more thrilled at this idea. And in fact, I’m gonna see her on Saturday. If you want, I can ask her.” And so within a week, we have the naming rights and we’ve been going full blast ever since.

Lookout: You mentioned that Dolores Huerta is representative of the values and the work that the center aspires to do. Can you describe what the center is and its focus?

RCA 30th Anniversary Celebration: Sharing Futures, Speaking Truths

UCSC invites the community to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Research Center for the Americas, and its renaming in honor of civil rights and feminist icon Dolores Huerta.

The event will start with an empanada reception from 5 to 6 p.m. before Cristina Jiménez, community organizer and United We Dream co-founder, gives the keynote address. The program will also include a tribute to Dolores Huerta, who will be the distinguished honoree of the event.

Date: Thursday, Oct. 20, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Location: Cowell Hay Barn, located at the base of campus at 94 Ranch View Rd.
Cost: General admission is $75 and there’s limited admission for UCSC students for $35. The university will also have a limited number of students sponsored to attend the event. Students will be selected at random and have to register to be eligible. Click here for more information.

Falcón: I would describe it as a hub that brings and puts into conversation Chicano studies, Latino studies and Latin American studies. What I mean by that is we understand that our lives are intertwined. We’re the first research center in the UC system to do that, to think about the hemisphere in the way that we think about. Basically, to advance crossborder dialogues that understand our fates are intertwined, that our lives are intertwined.

You can’t fully understand Chicano/Chicana/Chicanx or Latino/Latina/Latinx lives without understanding what’s happening in [Latin America]. Even if someone like a Chicano/Chicana/Chicanx is born in the United States, nonetheless they have been impacted by global dynamics, migration, political conflict and other kinds of issues that impact the region. And same with Latin American studies; you can’t fully actually understand Latin America without understanding the role of the U.S. in Latin America. And so part of what we try and think about is this bridge that comes through bringing these fields together. Latino, Latinx and Chicanx studies is typically considered an ethnic studies field. And Latin American studies is considered an area studies field based on geography. We’re saying that you actually have to put both of those things together, because you can’t actually understand ethnic studies without understanding the politics of geography and vice versa.

Lookout: What is one of your favorite projects from the center?

Falcón: One of my most, I would say memorable, projects was in 2019. When we just opened the Human Rights Investigations Lab — fall of 2019. Chile just explodes in all of these uprisings and protests. We had UC Santa Cruz, UC students, who are studying abroad over there in Chile, letting us know that they are witnessing these protests, police conflicts, things are boiling over. So the students came to me and said, we have to do an investigation project on the ground. We have a sister lab at UC Berkeley and, with them, we launched an investigation into incidents of police violence against protesters. That was super memorable because the project was totally driven by them. Their friends were in Chile witnessing all of this police violence. They wanted to use these new skills that they had learned around digital technologies and fact-finding to try to figure out what’s really happening down there. They produced, in the end, I think, three digital reports.

They were published in 2020 and 2021. The university also did a video about it as well. We sent these reports to a number of Chilean human rights organizations through our contacts at the center. They amplified it on their end, reporting it to the media and things like that. We got the attention of Amnesty International France. The Amnesty International magazine editor-in-chief saw our report and she flew out last year to meet the students who worked on it. It was super memorable.

Lookout: You met Dolores Huerta several times. Can you tell us what one of those encounters was like?

Falcón: The most recent time that I reconnected with Dolores was at state Sen. Bill Monning’s opening of his archives at CSU Monterey Bay. Dolores Huerta was the keynote, this was probably back in March of this year. They go way back; he was a lawyer for the United Farm Workers (the labor union co-founded by Huerta and Cesar Chavez in 1962). She’s 92 and can just walk up to the stage with ease, not needing assistance. And she gave a keynote address, without notes, that was so powerful. It was a lovely speech dedicated to Sen. Monning. Then she closed it by leading everyone in a chant of “Viva, Bill Monning!” It was one of those moments where you see she’s such a young-at-heart person and she’s such a community organizer. I mean, even at 92, she knows how to bring a crowd to their feet.

I gave her some Banana Slug gifts, to share with her grandchildren. We’d already had the conversations about the naming rights by that time. And so I introduced myself, “I’m Sylvanna Falcón from UC Santa Cruz.” And, she said something along the lines of “Oh my gosh, so nice to meet you.” It was just one of those warm exchanges. I said we’re grateful for her belief and support in our efforts, and that we look forward to continuing our partnership for the years to come.

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