CSUN will illuminate activist Dolores Huerta’s passion for music

Dolores Huerta’s personal playlist contains a medley of historical sound snippets. Fiery speeches from the San Joaquin vineyards. Fervent chants of “¡Si, si se puede!” Ronald Reagan demonstratively nibbled on grapes despite what he believed to be the “immoral” farm workers’ strike that Huerta championed alongside Cesar Chavez.

But Huerta’s Geist audio archive keeps several other tracks in heavy rotation. Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite. Billie Holliday’s “God Bless the Child”. John Lennon’s Imagine. Not to mention cumbias, mariachi and flamenco. Boleros from the frontiers, civil rights gospel anthems and dirges from Dust Bowl.

“I always say that art touches the heart, the mind and the soul,” Huerta said over dinner at a Thai restaurant in Bakersfield last week, just minutes after delivering a pre-election speech at Cal State Bakersfield. “It gives you the awareness you need and the healing you need and the energy you need. Music and art and theater do all these things.”

Huerta was in the town she ironically and affectionately calls Bakersfield, Alabama to give a talk on “How to Overcome Apathy and Find Your Power.” She had flown in from the Nevada campaign that night with John Legend, Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama. The next day she would fly to Georgia to campaign with Stacey Abrams and then on to Michigan to canvass for voters ahead of last Tuesday’s election.

Dolores Huerta, left, union leader and civil rights activist, meets Manpreet Kaur

Dolores Huerta, left, a labor leader and civil rights activist, meets Bakersfield City Council candidate Manpreet Kaur at a campaign rally at IBEW Local 428 in Bakersfield.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

This Sunday she will be the laureate of a musical tribute, “Concierto Para Dolores”, at the CSUN Soraya Performing Arts Center, hosted by actress, comedian and writer Cristela Alonzo, with musical direction by Cheche Alara and performances by La Santa Cecilia, John Doe , Gaby Moreno, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. and David Aguilar, among others.

She is 92 years old. She raised 11 children. She has been an activist since high school. Her 5-foot-2-inch body suffered a ruptured spleen and broken ribs when police clashed with protesters in San Francisco in 1988. She had COVID twice.

“And believe me, you can’t compete with this woman,” said her longtime friend Dan Guerrero, who will host Sunday’s show. “The nuclear woman is what she is.”

Today, Huerta’s legacy as an organizer of the labor movement is well known to virtually anyone with a mobile phone and a social conscience. Less well known is her reverence for the arts and transformative ability, an intimate side of her that the concert will seek to illuminate and enliven.

Huerta’s lifelong love of music, dance, visual arts and theater began when she was a child learning the violin and tap dancing and singing in two choirs in two churches. A cousin introduced her to the records of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

May 2016 Photo of Dolores Huerta waiting backstage at the United Farm Workers Convention in Bakersfield.

May 2016 Photo of Dolores Huerta waiting backstage at the United Farm Workers Convention in Bakersfield.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

And Caesar? “He was more of a Benny Goodman type than a Charlie Parker type,” Huerta said with a smile.

It’s tempting to think that jazz is her favorite form of music because of its affinity for political activism. You can’t riff if you’re not sure of the core melody. Improvise as much as you want, but stay true to the beat.

On the road, where she spends a lot of time, Huerta often attends shows and concerts, and “if there’s live music, the woman will dance,” Alonzo said. “I could tell you stories of her and I dancing to A Tribe Called Quest.”

Guerrero, 82, said he and Huerta came of age in a moment when politics and art shared a pillow. His father, Lalo Guerrero, the activist and father of Chicano music, wrote “El Corrido de Delano,” one of the first songs about the peasant movement. Visual artists such as Barbara Carrasco and Carlos Almaraz were supported el movimiento while revolutionizing how Latinos saw themselves. Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino turned farm workers into accomplished actors.

Some of the cast and presenters of Sunday only found out about this story later in life. But the example of Huerta and her colleagues is now helping to further their own art and action.

“Our school district was 99% Latino, but we didn’t learn anything about Latinos in history. We learned the classic ‘Columbus came over and blah, blah, blah,'” said Alonzo, who grew up in South Texas. “So when I came across an article about Dolores, I thought it was so cool that there was another Mexican-American woman who had done enough for people to write about her.”

Singers McCoo and Davis recalled getting swept up like Huerta as members of the 5th Dimension during the turbulent 1960s when they got caught in the middle of the head-pounding melee that broke out at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. On Sunday, Davis will sing “Blackbird,” the Beatles’ nod to civil rights-era black women.

“The poetry is just as powerful today as it was then. It’s about how we need to come together,” McCoo said.

Davis will also interpret Marvin Gaye’s soul classic What’s Going On, which he says could have just as easily been written in 2021 as in 1971.

“There’s always been trouble and protests and police brutality in this country and it seems like they just can’t keep their hands off the brothers,” Davis said.

Raised in Guatemala, singer-songwriter Moreno had not heard of Huerta and Chavez until she moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s. She compares Huerta to Guatemalan feminists and human rights activists such as Helen Mack Chang and Rigoberta Menchú, the latter the K’iche Nobel Peace Prize winner. These women and socially conscious Latin Americans Trova Singers like Silvio Rodríguez and Violeta Parra from Cuba and Víctor Jara from Chile have colored Moreno’s burning musical supplication on behalf of immigrants and other causes.

“I read something recently that Dolores said in an interview that everyone has to be an activist,” Moreno said while on tour in Germany. “I firmly believe in that. Even as a musician, I feel we have a responsibility to speak out on all issues that affect not just you but the world.”

La Marisoul, the brilliantly dressed lead singer of La Santa Cecilia, said she felt “the names of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta have been around my ears my entire life. I don’t know if it was growing up on Olvera Street, or the marches that went by, or the people passing out leaflets, or when Cesar Chavez visited Olvera Street, maybe in the ’80s.”

She credits Huerta’s generation of activists and artists with encouraging La Santa Cecilia to address issues like the way harsh policies overshadow the lives of immigrants in the band’s witty 2013 protest song “El Hielo (ICE).” .

“What I love about her is that when you hang out with her, she’s a cheerful, happy, like a true lover of life,” says La Marisoul of Huerta. “Una luz, una fuerza. I don’t know if she realizes how important her light and fire are to all of us. But I think it’s an honor to be able to celebrate it tonight.”

Whatever music she listens to every day, Huerta wants us all to hear it too. Like the first clarinet solo of “Rhapsody in Blue,” which came to mind one early morning in New York City, where she and farmhands had gone to a rally at Hunt Point Market in the Bronx.

“The city is so quiet then, and the beginning of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ reminds me of that. And then when we came back, around 7 a.m., the cars honked like percussion.”

Even Huerta does not know the full program for Sunday. Show director Guerrero has promised some surprises.

But this much can be said with certainty: if there is music, the woman will dance.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-11/dolores-huerta-csun-show-activist CSUN will illuminate activist Dolores Huerta’s passion for music

Alley Einstein

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