Renown U.S. labor leader and activist Dolores Huerta says being a leader is not that difficult. It's just a lot of work.
Huerta, 83, a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and co-founder of the United Farm Workers with César Chávez, was the keynote speaker Thursday for the kickoff of Elgin Community College's 24th annual Hispanic Heritage Month.
Huerta credited her mother, who divorced her abusive husband, with setting a strong example and encouraging her to get involved in activities to break out of her shyness shell.
Her mother also taught her helping others is about the act itself, not about receiving gratitude or compensation.
"My life was kind of an evolution, always wanting to do things to bring people together," she said during an open forum at Spartan Auditorium. Later she added, "When we see conditions of injustice, unless we change it, we can't think it's going to change."
Huerta, who lives in California, commended the undocumented students, or "Dreamers," movement for its successes. In summer 2012, certain undocumented students who arrived before age 16 were granted permission to apply for work permits.
She also exhorted ECC students to protest U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam's opposition to comprehensive immigration reform by sending him postcards, and organizing fasting protests.
"The No. 1 thing is, you have to vote. Election Day is the most important day of your life."
Too few women are taking on leadership roles and are instead taught that someone will take care of them, she said. "Women don't have the same physical strength, but (have) a lot of brainpower and intuition."
ECC student Anastacia Barbosa asked Huerta what can be done when feminists are disparaged. "Ignore the critics and keep doing your work," Huerta answered.
Huerta said she was a "terrible housekeeper," and had a lot of help in raising her 11 children.
"For every unmade bed, hopefully a farmer got a dollar an hour more," she said.
ECC graduate Daniel Moreira, of Elgin, said he agreed with Huerta that the U.S. education system has become an "elimination system" at the expense of Latino and black students.
"I feel like we are educating the educated," he said.
Huerta was inspiring, said Jamie Shaw, head coach of ECC's women's soccer team.
"If any of us could just do a quarter of (what Huerta's accomplished), or even one-tenth of it, I can't imagine the impact we would make," Shaw said.
As for her three key pieces of advice, Huerta had a rapid-fire reply. "Organize. Organize. Organize."