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September 26, 2018

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‘Courage to step up’: How Carlos Santana, labor icon joined forces on new documentary

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Chris Kudialis

Musician Carlos Santana and activist Dolores Huerta discuss a new documentary on Huerta’s life that aired last month on PBS. The two spoke for nearly an hour at the Foundation Room at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Thursday, May 17, 2018

She co-founded the first farmworkers union in the United States and is regarded as a feminist revolutionary by those who know her.

But Dolores Huerta, now 88, was never into publicizing her personal achievements until she was approached by Las Vegas House of Blues resident Carlos Santana, who pitched the idea of making a full-length documentary about her life adversity and accomplishments. Five years later, propelled by Santana’s persuasion, the 95-minute “Dolores” launched on PBS last month.

“I couldn’t say no to Carlos Santana,” Huerta said. “I had rejected the idea before, but Carlos had a vision.”

Huerta and Santana, who was executive producer on the project, spoke to a small, private crowd Thursday morning at the venue’s Foundation Room inside Mandalay Bay, expounding on the documentary before holding a Q&A session with guests.

Huerta said her advocacy — which started in the 1950s — was born after seeing the “miserable” conditions of U.S. farmworkers at the time. She co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, now the United Farm Workers of America, with Cesar Chavez and coined the phrase “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, we can”), which has since served as a rallying cry for Latinos in labor unions, political rallies and even sporting events.

Huerta said Thursday the phrase has since evolved to signify togetherness. While translated literally as “Yes, it can be done,” and intended for individuals to overcome obstacles of racial and sexual marginalization, the phrase in 2018 means working together “to make the world a better place.”

“If you get involved in civic life and helping others, your personal problems actually diminish,” Huerta said. “You have to have that courage to step up.”

“I think it’s an obligation we all have,” she added.

In addition to championing organized labor in the U.S., Huerta is credited with advancing women’s rights and racial equality, despite having 11 kids and nearly dying after being injured in a 1988 confrontation with San Francisco police.

Santana said the documentary on the “worldly” and unselfish Huerta was necessary to empower future generations of feminist activists.

“This wave of consciousness from Dolores is going to permeate this planet,” Santana said. “She’s a musician and her symphony is organizing hearts to believe they can do the impossible.