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New Mexico honors Dolores Huerta as birthplace sits vacant

February 27, 2019
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Dolores Huerta, 88, the Mexican-American social activist who formed a farmworkers union with Cesar Chavez, stands for the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish while visiting the New Mexico Statehouse on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The New Mexico-born Huerta was honored by the House for "Dolores Huerta Day" as lawmakers work to save her birthplace in Dawson, New Mexico. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Dolores Huerta, the Mexican-American social activist who formed a farmworkers union with Cesar Chavez, was honored by state lawmakers Wednesday, some of whom vowed to work to save her birthplace that now sits abandoned.

The 88-year-old advocate and one of the most recognizable Latina activists in the U.S. history stood quietly as on the House floor as lawmakers took turns praising Huerta for helping shape their views on union activism and fighting poverty.

Democratic Rep. Angelica Rubio said Huerta’s decades of advocacy led to a new generation of Latina elected officials like herself. She said Huerta also was a key to getting Mexican-American history taught in public schools.

“As some of you have the George Washingtons and Abraham Lincolns, we have Dolores Huerta,” Rubio said.

Huerta’s birthplace in Dawson, New Mexico, continues to sit vacant and neglected. Critics have charged that little has been done to preserve the old mining town because Huerta is a woman and scant attention has been given to female pioneers and civil rights leaders.

“It’s interesting. I don’t know why we’ve never done anything about her birthplace,” said Democratic Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero. “I think women of color need to step up and tell the stories of our leaders. We need to act on this.”

Roybal Caballero said activists were pushing for a street in Albuquerque’s South Valley to be renamed after Huerta and the next project would be finding a way to save the birthplace.

Dawson, now a ghost town about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Santa Fe, is surrounded by a fence and is not open to the public.

Huerta moved to Stockton, California, as a child, and later helped form the United Farm Workers with Chavez in the late 1960s.

Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia said lawmakers could take up a measure next year that could begin the process of preserving Dawson and possibly create a museum. “We need the structure foundation first and not do something fly-by-night,” said Garcia, whose grandfather worked in the Dawson mines.

Huerta said she’d be happy if lawmakers sought to restore the town of her birth but any effort should also focus on labor history. “A lot of people died in those mines,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about me.”

Huerta told supporters she’s humbled by the attention but urged them to use her name to push for social justice.

Lawmakers on Wednesday approved making Feb. 27 “Dolores Huerta Day.”

The action came days after the House passed a measure to create a state holiday in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez and Cesar Chavez. That proposal drew criticism for not including Huerta.

Garcia, the sponsor of the holiday proposal, said Huerta wasn’t included because she was still alive. “Perhaps one day, when she parishes, we will look to amend the bill,” Garcia said. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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Associated Press Writer Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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