MAY 28th & 29th, 2016

Photo courtesy of Oliver Klink


United Farm Workers Icon Dolores Huerta
Named Grand Marshal of Carnaval Grand Parade

Helping establish the nation’s best-known organization of farm workers and directing the first national boycott of California table grapes are just a few of civil rights leader Dolores Huerta’s many feats.


But of all the roles the legendary organizer has filled, it’s her upcoming role in San Francisco’s Carnaval celebration that she considers noteworthy.


Organizers of the parade found it fitting to invite the union-organizing heroine to do what she does best - lead. Huerta’s service will come in the form of waves and smiles on May 29 when she’ll lead the Carnaval parade as its grand marshal.


“I consider it a very prestigious role,” said Huerta. “I feel honored to be even asked. I think it’s fabulous.”


Among her many accolades, Huerta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2012 by President Barack Obama.


Huerta’s ties to San Francisco’s historic Mission District trace back to her beginnings as an advocate for the working class farm communities throughout California.


Huerta said many of the neighborhood’s activists supported the United Farm Workers movement in the early 1960’s by gathering food and transporting supplies by caravan to Delano where the organization was being birthed at that time by founder and organizing giant, Cesar Chavez.


Today, Huerta sees many similarities in the battle she fought years ago on behalf of farm workers and and the one that’s been brewing in San Francisco in the last decade. The most daunting issue for Huerta is the pushout of working class families from their neighborhoods due to gentrification and economic displacement.


“The fact that people don’t have places to live...the housing is so bad and it’s not affordable,” she said.


Huerta’s spirit is symbolic of the Mission District and its people, making her the perfect choice to lead the Carnaval parade during this crucial time, said Carnaval San Francisco’s Executive Producer Roberto Hernandez.


“Dolores Huerta’s fighting spirit serves as an inspiration to all of us struggling for the survival of our barrio,” Hernandez said. “She’s both forceful and nurturing -- a mother figure to our community. Dolores spoke out decades ago about the dangers of toxic pesticides to field workers and to our food supply. Her advocacy for farm workers and the environment is in keeping with our 2016 theme, Viva La Madre Tierra - Long Live Mother Earth. She is a remarkable advocate for environmental issues, social justice, women’s rights, and our Latino community as a whole.”


While she continues her work through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, such as combatting the school to prison pipeline across the nation, she also wants to bring her expertise to the table when talking about the issues facing San Francisco.


“It’s about making people understand that they have power,” Huerta said. She said part of her strategy is to encourage people to run for public office in their communities so they have the power to make the changes they want to see. Huerta also feels it’s important to empower people through civic education and organization so that they remain connected to the political process and the policies that may affect them.


Huerta is troubled by the recent police officer-involved shootings of a few San Francisco residents. As a victim of police brutality in 1988, it’s meaningful to Huerta that people continue to protest violent law enforcement actions and ask for police reform.


It was in San Francisco where Huerta, at the age of 58, suffered a life-threatening assault while protesting against the policies of then presidential candidate George Bush. Huerta’s small frame, barely supporting 100 pounds, was caught in a crowd as a line of officers thrusted batons to clear protesters out. She suffered a beaten spleen and six broken ribs requiring more than a dozen blood transfusions.


Huerta said the attack and the public outrage from it pushed the San Francisco Police Department to change its policies regarding crowd control and police discipline.


In regard to the city’s recent incidents, Huerta said it’s important to not let up on the call for change.


“I’m really grateful the community has come out in force to protest these slayings,” Huerta said. “We just have to keep pressure on law enforcement to change their policies.” She said that the victims “are not animals, they’re people and they shouldn’t be just killing them the way they’re doing. I think the whole culture has to change when it comes to law enforcement. It’s an epidemic. Police aren’t honoring the sanctity of life.”


Carnaval can serve as another piece of the puzzle in battling the negative changes the community is experiencing, according to Huerta, because the celebration demands unity among the city’s residents.


Just as she watched the neighborhood grow, she also witnessed Carnaval’s rise over the years and sees it as a culturally-rich celebration indicative of the community it started in.


She loves how the parade is inclusive and features the talented students from the city’s schools. Her daughter Juanita is one of the many dancers to have samba’d their way through the famed Mission District parade route.


What’s a bonus for Huerta during Carnaval? She can support the community and get her holiday shopping out of the way in one stop at the eight-block Carnaval Festival on Harrison Street.


“They have all the shops and all the great artisans,” Huerta said. “I love to go shopping during Carnaval because I get to do my whole Christmas shopping there. There’s so much of a variety and everyone’s so friendly.”


“(Carnaval) is such an expression of joy and art and music and life,” Huerta said. “We come together as one.”



Written by Christina Calloway. Edited by Digital Content Manager Sylvia Ramirez. Copyright 2016 by Drumbeat, Carnaval San Francisco. All rights reserved.



“¡Viva La Madre Tierra!”, celebrates Mother Earth's prevalence in many cultures worldwide as the manifestation of the natural world. She is the life giver and the sustainer of life; from her womb she gave origin to all the plants, animals, and people. To learn more, please look at our Theme Page and listen to the song created for our theme, "Lets Love Mother Earth" by The DJ Project.


Illustration & Design: © Amie Valle –




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