Women in Colonial Latin America
In Colonial Latin America, women were expected to never leave their homes. They were constantly under the watchful eye of their husbands. They were treated as possessions, and if they disobeyed a rule they would be treated as sinners. Women during this time did not have a voice. In modern Latin America, women found their voice. Frida Kahlo and Dolores Huerta are two women who have greatly impacted the concept of women in politics. While Frida Kahlo and Dolores Huerta are both considered impactful political activists, their missions differ due to their own personal experiences and beliefs throughout their lives. Dolores Huerta is an American icon and civil rights activist. Huerta was born in 1930 in New Mexico. Her father was a farm worker and miner. He was also an activist who sat on the New Mexico legislature. When Huerta’s parents divorced, she moved with her mom and siblings to California. Growing up in a single parent household, Dolores learned from her mother the importance of independence and courage. In California, the community they lived in was populated with many agricultural migrant workers. Her childhood and upbringing helped foster her future work as a civil rights activist. Dolores, along with her partner Cesar Chavez, founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. Later, the National Farm Workers Association was renamed to the United Farm Workers (UFW).
The UFW was a union that was created to advocate for agricultural farm workers. Dolores’s main slogan was “Sí, se puede.” As an activist, Huerta focused on giving herself to the organization because she knew that the workers needed her help. During an interview with NPR, Dolores stated, “Well, the conditions were terrible. The farmworkers were only earning about 70 cents an hour at that time — 90 cents was the highest wage that they were earning. They didn’t have toilets in the fields, they didn’t have cold drinking water. They didn’t have rest periods” (https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/17/551490281/dolores-huerta-the-civil-rights-icon-who-showed-farmworkers-si-se-puede). The conditions for the agricultural workers were atrocious, and Dolores took it upon herself to try and stop this problem. Dolores became one of the leading members of this organization and made her mark as a leading spokesperson. Throughout Huerta’s involvement with the UFW, she faced many challenges because of sexism within the organization. In a TIME Magazine article in 1969, Huerta was described as the “tiny, tough, assistant” of Cesar Chavez.
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Huerta was the only woman on the board of the UFW but was often overlooked for the work that she accomplished. In the movie Dolores by Peter Bratt, interviews are shown where Huerta is belittled for her work because of her gender. In many interviews with the media, Dolores is often talked about as Cesar Chavez’s girlfriend, not as a founding member of the organization. One example from the movie is when Tom Horne is presenting a case in court. Tom Horne, a past Attorney General of Arizona and past Superintendent of Public Instruction, testified in Tucson, Arizona about teaching ethnic-studies in Arizona Public Schools. During his speech, he discussed Huerta and her political beliefs. Yet again, he introduced Dolores as Chavez’s girlfriend and undermined her work in the movement. Chavez constantly gets all the credit for Huerta’s work. While I agree that Chavez deserves credit for his work with the Union, it is unfortunate that Huerta did not receive the credit she deserves. In an interview with Lily Rothman, Huerta was asked about her feelings towards not being credited for her work in the UFW. In response to the question, Huerta stated, “I never felt overlooked because I didn’t expect any kind of recognition. I think that’s very typical of women. I had been acculturated to be supportive, to be accommodating, to support men in the work they do” (http://time.com/5211356/dolores-huerta-pbs-documentary/). It is unfortunate the Dolores was able to accept the fact that she did not receive credit for her work because of her gender.
Recently, Huerta was awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights by President Clinton and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Like Dolores Huerta, Frida Kahlo was very involved in politics. Kahlo’s goal in politics was not to advocate for the greater good, but to help support the political party that she was devoted to. Frida Kahlo was a well-known female Mexican artist. At a young age, Kahlo was diagnosed with polio which impacted the rest of her life. Kahlo and Diego Rivera met while she was an art student, and she hoped that he would help her further her career. Later, Kahlo and Rivera married. Kahlo had a passion for communism and was an avid social activist. Through her artwork, she expressed her communist views and was not afraid to stand up for female rights. Along with her beliefs, her personal struggles of being infertile helped her create very personal works of art. Frida Kahlo is a great example of a strong and powerful woman. Frida Kahlo became interested in politics during the 1920s. She joined the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) in 1927. During her time as a member of the communist party, Kahlo became fascinated with Joseph Stalin. She showed her devotion to him and the communist party through her artwork.
In Frida’s paint “Self Portrait with Stalin,” Kahlo painted her political views. In this painting, Stalin’s headshot is large in the background looking over Frida who is sitting. This is showing him as a “saint-like” figure. It shows that Kahlo looked up to Stalin and valued his political affiliation. Currently, this painting is located in the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. While both women had different political goals, one thing they had in common was their feministic views. When asked to define what it means to be a feminist, Dolores Huerta stated, “To me, a feminist is a person who supports a woman’s reproductive rights, who supports a woman’s right to an abortion, who supports LGBT rights, who supports workers and labor unions, somebody who cares about the environment, who cares about civil rights and equality and equity in terms of our economic system” (http://time.com/5211356/dolores-huerta-pbs-documentary/). Before being apart of the UFW, Huerta did not consider herself to be a feminist. Dolores went on a trip to New York with the goal of supporting the California Grape Strike, but she left with a whole different mindset.
As stated by her son, “my mother was raised Catholic and very traditional, and prior to going to New York she really didn’t speak of feminism” (Dolores Movie). During this time, the feminist movement in New York was gaining a lot of press. When Dolores met famous feminist activist Gloria Steinem, they decided to join forces and create intersectionality in their movements. In the film Dolores, Huerta describes herself as “a born-again feminist” (DOLORES MOVIE). Throughout the fight for equality for women, Huerta was able to positively change the way female workers were treated. Recently, Huerta was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and she was an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March in Washington, DC. Frida Kahlo is viewed as an icon and an important figure in the feminist movement. Frida Kahlo is a feminist because she painted real women and their struggles, she was not afraid to express her political beliefs, and she embraced her sexuality. She openly had relations with both men and women and was unfazed by the negative attention she received. Kahlo expressed her open views of sexuality in her painting “Two Nudes in the Forest”, 1939.
In her painting, she depicts two women lying naked together sharing an intimate moment. Frida’s ability to share this type of private moment shows her boldness. Her paintings represent the truth, suffering, and sexual identity of women. Kahlo was a true crusader and a fierce role model for all people. The impact that both Dolores Huerta and Frida Kahlo have had on today’s society is impressive. While both women ultimately were coined as leading feminists in their lives, each woman had different ways of expressing their political views. Frida Kahlo believed in communism, while Dolores Huerta fought for civil rights. Frida Kahlo used her art to express her political views on communism, abortion, and motherhood, while Dolores Huerta spent her time with other leading female activists and organized feminist movements and rallies.
While both women seemed to have been overshadowed by strong men, they both fought for their causes and created their own identities. I am grateful for these two women because I am a young female trying to discover her own identity. As I continue my own personal growth, I hope to find my own voice.