Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta was honored during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 58-unit affordable housing complex for farmworkers and formerly homeless veterans in Oxnard that will be named in her honor.
Huerta, 93, wielded a golden-colored shovel to help turn some dirt at the site of Dolores Huerta Gardens Apartments on Oct. 4, and she spent as much time as necessary to take pictures with her admirers and sign autographs.
The project at the corner of Pleasant Valley and Etting roads is under construction by Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), a nonprofit developer founded in 1981 that’s become the largest provider of affordable housing in Ventura County, managing more than 1,100 units at 24 properties.
Huerta gained prominence for her work co-founding the National Farmworkers Association alongside César Chávez in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers union. Huerta is also credited with originating the now familiar chant “Sí, see puede!” which translates as “Yes, it can be done,” or “Yes, we can” that became popular with both activists and politicians including President Barack Obama. In 2012 Obama awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Margarita H. de Escontrias, CEDC CEO, said during the ceremony she’s admired Huerta since 1971 when Huerta spoke with students at the University of California, Riverside on her way to organize farmworkers in Coachella. The CEO spoke about the obstacles Huerta overcame.
“Dolores has always been fearless throughout her life. She faced violence by police who beat her. She faced violence on the picket lines. Misogyny and sexism within her own organization by growers and other workers. At this time, the feminist movement was just beginning,” de Escontrias said.
At the ceremony, Huerta delivered a speech where she reminisced about her work in Oxnard during the 1970s as well as housing issues facing low-income people today.
“We have so many people that are homeless and many people that live on the street. So, when we see what’s happening here today with all of you and with Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, I think it’s amazing,” Huerta told the crowd of over 100 people. “One other note, too, since a lot of the housing here is going to house farmworkers: This is where César Chávez started his organizing of farmworkers, right here in Oxnard, also. So, this is a very historical moment.”
Jennifer Seeger is deputy director of state financial assistance for the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which helped provide $34 million from a variety of sources to finance the project, including the California Housing Accelerator Program.
“The accelerator program provided the gap funding that was needed to jumpstart this project and 56 other projects across the state, and was just the kind of innovative, urgent action we needed to get the housing that Californians need,” Seeger said during the ceremony. “The short story is that we need to build — this is an astonishing number — 2.5 million housing units between now and 2030, and at least one million of those units must meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness. It’s a huge order to fill, but projects like this will help us reach our goal.”
After taking part in the groundbreaking and spending time chatting with her fans and taking pictures, Huerta spoke with the Ventura County Reporter about how honored she is to have the complex named for her. “We know that housing is a big issue right now inour society. And to know that people will be housed in a safe place, farmworkers, veterans, low-income people, that to me is very special.”
When asked to reflect on her own legacy, Huerta said engagement is key.
“I would hope that I would inspire people to also be civically engaged in the community because the greatest resource we have is our time. And we have to give part of our time to make sure that our democracy functions,” she said. “And by that, I mean that we have to engage in voting, in advocacy and caring for others. And if all of us work together we can really move our country forward instead of backward.”
After the ceremony was over and guests were enjoying tacos for lunch, de Escontrias told the VCReporter why it was appropriate to name the complex in Huerta’s honor.
“I think many of us who work at Cabrillo descend from families that are either in hard labor or farmworker labor, agricultural work in some fashion or another. So, when we get
to dedicate a facility or a housing development to honor farmworkers today, we all recollect our own ancestors,” de Escontrias said. “That’s why I think it is so symbolic for many of the staff who are here today. We no longer work in the fields; we know our ancestors did. We’re proud of that and we want to honor them.”
Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, 702 County Square Drive, Suite 200, Ventura, 805-659-3791, www.cabrilloedc.org
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