UC Santa Cruz’s Research Center for the Americas celebrated 30 years of groundbreaking work with an official renaming for social justice icon Dolores Huerta on Thursday evening at the Cowell Ranch Hay Barn. The sold-out event included UC Santa Cruz students, faculty, staff, and alumni, community members, dignitaries and several members of Huerta’s family. Huerta delivered a resounding speech that included leading the crowd of more than 200 people in a joyous chant of “Sí, se puede,” her famous mantra that has become synonymous with Latinx pride, power, and hope.
Huerta praised the impact of the research center that will bear her name, which is the first of its kind in the UC system to combine perspectives from the fields of Latinx ethnic studies and Latin American area studies to focus on the experiences of Latinx people in the United States and the social, political, economic, and environmental forces shaping Latin America.
“With the students coming to the center, and with papers that will be published here, I know that we will be able to change history, and make history, and make the world a better place.” — Dolores Huerta
The event kicked off with a reception, followed by a live performance from student musical group Mariachi Eterno de UCSC. The main program, which honored Huerta, celebrated the research center’s 30th anniversary, and featured a powerful keynote speech by community organizer Cristina Jiménez, co-founder of United We Dream, commenced shortly after 6 p.m. and was livestreamed for viewers around the world. Afterward, Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas gave a special dance performance, then the celebration continued into the night with desserts, music and dancing, and a photo booth.
UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive opened the evening’s proceedings, and as she announced the renaming of the center, the audience cheered enthusiastically in recognition of Dolores Huerta.
Huerta is the founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. In 1962, she co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. She has spent more than 60 years leading community organizing and lobbying efforts to address issues like labor rights, gender discrimination, voter registration, education reform, LGBTQ rights, and economic inequality on behalf of farm workers, immigrants, women, youth, and others in California and the United States. Huerta’s legacy has long guided the work and values of the newly renamed Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas.
The center’s programs and research initiatives study many of the same topics that Huerta has dedicated her life to, shedding new light on how these issues manifest today in Latinx communities across the U.S. and Latin America. The center focuses on applying its research insights to support social change work. Huerta also shares the center and UCSC’s focus on student empowerment and success. She has a background as an educator, is a former UC Regent, and advocates for educational equity through the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
The naming of the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americans recognizes Huerta’s impact as a pathbreaking leader in all of these areas, reaffirms the center’s commitment to the values she embodies, and dedicates the center’s future work in her honor.
“I am certain that UC Santa Cruz students—the next generation of change makers—will be inspired by Huerta for many years to come,” — Cynthia Larive, UCSC Chancellor
Associate Professor Sylvanna Falcón, director of the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas, took to the stage during the event to share background on the center’s mission, history, and programs, including its work to mentor students and provide a supportive community. Social Sciences Dean Katharyne Mitchell also celebrated this aspect of the center’s work in her opening remarks.
“Both the center’s research impact and its focus on student engagement and mentorship demonstrate a deep commitment to many of our values in the Division of Social Sciences,” Mitchell said, “particularly inclusion and ensuring our diverse student population is increasingly able to recognize itself in our faculty, our staff, and our overall institutions.”
The Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas is affiliated with both the Division of Social Sciences and the Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) Department, and in the weeks leading up to the event, LALS students shared what the center’s naming meant to them.
“For Latino students, especially for first-generation or undocumented students and for those of us in the LALS department, this renaming will bring an important empowering and hopeful message about what we can achieve as we keep fighting for human rights and social justice,” said Anais Mendoza Rosekrans, an undergraduate who conducts research with the Human Rights Investigations Lab at the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas.
“When I was younger and first heard about Dolores Huerta, I wanted to be just like her. Before learning about her, I didn’t know any other Latinas that were political activists fighting for human rights. I didn’t think that was an option for my life. Spreading [Huerta’s] name and the work she did can inspire other young girls to be powerful and stand up for what they believe in.” — Sofia Trigueros Ufford, first-year Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) student at UCSC
During the event, center director Sylvanna Falcón shared the story of how the naming came to be. For many years, Huerta’s name had, “kept coming up as someone who inspired us at the research center,” Falcón said. The stars finally aligned when UCSC alumnus Peter Bratt, who directed the award-winning documentary “Dolores,” helped put the research center in touch with Huerta to get approval for the naming. Then, starting with $50,000 in matching funds donated by The Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation, the center embarked on a crowdfunding campaign that raised $119,000 to strengthen and expand the center’s programs in alignment with Huerta’s legacy.
“We are from the grassroots up,” Falcón said of the center’s naming during her remarks at the event. “…We sent a public message that anyone could become a donor, anyone could show their support for honoring Dolores Huerta at the University of California, and that this naming belongs to the community.”
Falcón and Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies Gabriela F. Arredondo delivered a moving tribute to Huerta’s life and impact during the event. U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and UC Santa Cruz Distinguished Professor Emerita Angela Davis—a longtime friend of Huerta’s and fellow civil rights and feminist leader—both sent their congratulations via video, and California State Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Bill Monning sent his remarks via a letter that was read aloud at the event.
Huerta was also honored with a proclamation from Third District Supervisor of Santa Cruz County Ryan Coonerty, declaring October 20th to be “Dolores Huerta Day” in the County of Santa Cruz, and was awarded a key to the City of Santa Cruz by Mayor Sonja Brunner, who also issued a proclamation celebrating the center’s 30th anniversary. California State Senator John Laird presented a joint resolution with Assemblymember Mark Stone and Assemblymember Robert Rivas, recognizing both Huerta and the research center.
Huerta took to the stage amidst a standing ovation. She opened her remarks by saying with a chuckle that all the praise was “a little overwhelming,” then she thanked everyone in attendance and those who had helped to make the event possible. She also shared her thoughts about the importance of the center’s work in educating the public on the contributions of Latin American people to society. Specifically, she said Europe and the United States owe Latin America a debt for all the wealth extracted from the region over the years, and she discussed aspects of Indigenous and Afro Latino culture that have spread around the globe.
“Hopefully the center can get some of those truths out to people, not just for knowledge or to study, but to change policy,” she said.
Huerta called on the audience to help “make history” by working together to organize for social change and reminding people of the importance of exercising their right to vote. Keynote speaker Cristina Jiménez’s address, titled “We Are Powerful Beyond Numbers,” also carried forward that theme of collective power. Jiménez is the Co-Founder and former Executive Director of United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country, and was instrumental in a successful campaign for President Obama to sign Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Earlier in the day, Jiménez met privately with a group of UC Santa Cruz students, including some who have benefited from DACA and those who were interested in forming a UWD chapter on campus. During the event, Jiménez discussed her own experiences of migrating to the U.S. from Ecuador with her family at the age of 13 and growing up undocumented. Jiménez told the audience that despite recent setbacks in immigrants’ rights and a political climate that “can feel heavy,” she strongly believes that, “we have the power to create a country where all of us can live with dignity and thrive.”
“We all have the power to hold institutions accountable and open and close doors. This center was born to create a door. Now it has been renamed to honor a leader of our community, and it will continue to create safe spaces for our community. This is the type of institution we should invest in and support.” — Cristina Jiménez, keynote speaker and Co-Founder & former Executive Director of United We Dream (UWD)
And in building that brighter future together, the Dolores Huerta Research Center for the Americas can play an important role for years to come.