U.S. behind in women leaders, activist says

By By Ana Breton and By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

When it comes to world politics, the United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world. But overall, it’s No. 68 when it comes to having women in positions of political power, said Dolores Huerta, who was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers organization with Cesar Chavez and now serves as the first vice president emeritus of the organization.

Huerta, who is one of the most prominent female community activists for women and immigrant and farm workers’ rights, gave a keynote address Wednesday as part of the U’s Women’s Week celebration.

“People ask me all the time why I’m working on getting women to run for office,” Huerta said. “But I don’t see people complaining about having too many men in office. We have to change the face of the State Legislature.”

Speaking to a packed Union Ballroom, Huerta noted how the country is behind when it comes to having women in power. She compared the United States to countries such as Norway, which requires its Congress to be composed of at least 40 percent women, and Argentina, whose Congress has 30 percent female leaders.

Only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress is composed of female leaders. The percentage is similar to countries like Sudan and Iran, she said.

“This is not nice company for us to be in,” Huerta said. “We must stop segregating women. If this is going to be a better world, we need to have social balance.”

In order for that to happen, the public must analyze and change the way women are raised in American society. Huerta, the mother of 11 children, said that girls should be raised differently.

“Walt Disney has done something wrong. We’re taught to not interfere and be nice,” she said. “We’re taught to look for Prince Charming that he will come and save you. And in real life we think that he’s going to come, and there goes our career and our schooling. We’re treated like a trophy wife.”

Huerta compared these social perceptions to Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has received criticism as the only female presidential candidate. Huerta said that if Clinton talks too much she is seen as too aggressive. On the other hand, if Clinton doesn’t talk enough, she is seen as a wimp.

Huerta also talked about the importance of Nancy Pelosi, who last year became the first woman to serve as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Huerta stressed the fact that although Pelosi is third in line to the presidency, she has not received as much attention as Cheney and Bush.

“It’s kind of historic, but she didn’t get the cover of Time Magazine or Newsweek,” Huerta said. “She was on the cover of Ms. Magazine. That shows you how institutionalized we have become.”

Dolores Delgado Bernal, an associate professor in Education, Culture and Society, who introduced Huerta, applauded her efforts pushing for gender equality in the government.

“She is an activist, a feminist, a woman of color. She became a fearless lobbyist at the age of 25 when women or people of color were not allowed in the Legislature,” Delgado Bernal said. “She strongly believes that when women are empowered they become a catalyst for social change.”

Delgado Bernal also emphasized Huerta’s influence in the field of farm worker and immigrant rights. She is known to be one of the most powerful people in the labor movement and has been inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame. Through her legislative efforts, she helped remove citizenship requirements from pension and public assistance programs for legal U.S. residents in the 1960s, fought to allow the public to vote in Spanish and successfully helped pass legislation for farm worker and immigrant rights.

During her speech, she joked about how she helped Chavez coin the phrase “Si se puede,” or “Yes we can,” used in immigrant rallies, but that she has yet to receive credit for it.

“She really hit the issues. I think the discourse definitely continues,” said Daniel Cairo, a doctorate student in Education, Leadership and Policy. “She has balls.”

Huerta said that current anti-immigration legislation is simply a political tactic used in Congress, including the 1,000-kilometer fence the Bush administration is currently building from California to Texas to prevent immigrants from crossing the border.

“I thought we were against walls,” Huerta said. “No terrorists have come from Mexico. There was a terrorist that came from Canada, but we’re not building a wall there. People would throw a fit.”

“It’s good that she brought up the gender issues and not just immigrant issues,” said Stella Hernandez, a doctorate student in Education, Culture and Society. “We can’t just single one of them out; they are all related. It’s important to recognize that.”

In order to change perceptions about diverse individuals and women, Huerta encouraged the audience to make people uncomfortable. She said that whenever they hear a racist joke, they should try to fight it.

“I tell people I’m lesbian whenever I hear a gay joke,” Huerta said. “We have to remind them that it’s not OK. It makes them uncomfortable. It’s instant education.”

Huerta also encouraged people to take action — now.

“You can’t take things with you (after death),” she said. “You never see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it. You have to live for justice and humanity now.”

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Carlos Mayorga

Dolores Huerta, an activist for farm worker and immigrant rights, urges students to become more involved in political causes during her keynote speech Wednesday during the U’s Women’s Week celebration.