Planned Parenthood Advocates Mar Monte board member Camila Chavez is executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a Bakersfield-based non-profit started by and named for her mother, the iconic labor leader who also co-founded United Farm Workers with Camila’s legendary uncle, Cesar.
We caught up with Camila in March just before Cesar Chavez Day, March 31, to discuss her social justice heritage and bringing that perspective to Planned Parenthood.
PPMM: As the leader of a social justice organization and a member of one of the most storied families in California, how have you come to think of Cesar Chavez Day, seven years after your late uncle’s birthday was declared a national holiday?
Camila Chavez: It’s really about honoring the historic accomplishments of farm workers and the movement they created. Cesar was a farm worker with only an eighth grade education, but he led a movement of international recognition and changed the lives of so many people. Forever.
It was also the beginning of talking about issues that we’re still working on today, including how pesticides used in farming affect the consumer, and immigration reform. The farm workers movement was “intersectional” long before people started using that term. We were defending LGBTQ rights and the rights of folks from all walks of life.
PPMM: Of course, your mother, Dolores Huerta, was the other central and essential leader of the movement. As her youngest child, do you have strong personal memories associated with Cesar Chavez Day?
Camila: One of the things I always think about is the violence they faced. Farm-worker organizing was more dangerous in the 60’s and 70’s. My parents traveled a lot when they were doing this work, and one time bullets came through the front window of the office where they were working. The sheriff’s department was always pulling my mom over on the road for no reason, just to threaten her. Five farm workers and organizers were killed, and there was a contract put out on Cesar’s life. It’s amazing the risks they took for justice.
PPMM: You took the helm of your mother’s foundation when you were only 27 years old, and now, 15 years later, the organization has done amazing social justice grassroots organizing work in the Central Valley. What is some of the work you’re most proud of?
Camila: I’m really proud of our civic engagement work, getting people who didn’t understand the importance of civic engagement to become not just voters but educated voters during every election cycle. Our canvassers also did so much education around the 2020 Census, and we directly reached 84,000 people.
Now we’re working on informing people about the importance of redistricting and how these unfairly drawn districts affect our communities. We’re sponsoring a webinar called “Redistricting 101.” When we really show people these district maps and how the power is aligned, they can see the problem very clearly.
PPMM: How would you say your work at the foundation and your family history impacts your work as a board member at PPAMM?
Camila: I bring the perspective of the Central Valley and our workers here, and that’s reflected in so many of the patients that Planned Parenthood sees. A lot of people here have no insurance and really need health care services. Many work in agriculture and many are undocumented. I bring a knowledge of that kind of experience to the board. We’re talking about intersectionality again!
I’m also a third-generation feminist, and the majority of leadership at our foundation are women. That experience is powerful, and it fits right in with Planned Parenthood.
PPMM: In closing, how will you be celebrating Cesar Chavez Day?
Camila: Well, we don’t have the day off at the foundation! It’s one of our busiest days. We have so many programs going on. A lot of people want to celebrate and engage with us on that day.
But we have a big day to celebrate next month, too. My mother, Dolores Huerta, will be turning 91! We are organizing a virtual celebration for her on May 22nd.
What an amazing legacy!
For more information about Camila Chavez’s work at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, go to www.doloreshuerta.org