Sí se puede: Inspiring new generations Workers Arts and Heritage Centre commemorates legacy of Dolores Huerta

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Perhaps you’ve never heard of Dolores Huerta’s name before today, likely due to the deep sexism that prevents her work from appearing in textbooks and classrooms, but chances are you’ve heard her iconic words, “Sí se puede”.

Spanish for “yes we can”, Huerta’s rallying cry inspired labour rights movements in the United States, and her words were famously echoed by the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign.

Huerta is an American labour and civil rights activist who fought for the rights of agriculture workers and consumers’ rights. She co-founded the United Farm Workers in 1962 and was the leader of the five-year Delano grape strike.

Huerta’s life as a rebel, activist, feminist and mother was documented in the film Dolores which released earlier this fall. The film is part of the official selection for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and winner of the Seattle International Film Festival.

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre had spent months planning a public screening of Dolores and a presentation by Evelyn Encalada Grez, a local migrant worker activist and advocate, which took place on Oct. 26.

“She’s a very important feminist leader in France. Thanks to her, we have the right to abortion. She’s a very respectful and important woman for us, and she [passed away] a few months ago so I chose to honour her.” 

 

Alexane Heredia
Attendee 

At the event, a banner with the words “Sí se puede” surrounded by paintings and iron-on transfer photographs of feminists from around the world hung proudly.

Youth had gathered the night before the screening at a banner making workshop organized by WAHC program coordinator, Tara Bursey, and Daniela Giulietti from YWCA Hamilton, to learn about the legacy of Huerta.

“[Dolores Huerta] served as the foundation for the workshop, we are taking inspiration from her and thinking about how we can make a collective statement together, as youth, as artists and ask folks who are interested in feminism, labour and activism,” explained Bursey.

At the workshop, attendees had complete creative freedom to make the banner a statement of their own. Together, they decided to emphasize Huerta’s iconic words by writing “Sí se puede” in the different languages of feminists.

Mehar Hamid, who is a member of the WAHC Youth Council, described banner making as a unique skill that played an important role in labour history and activism.

“The purpose of today’s event is to gauge people’s interests and for the youth to see where their interests take them through this hands-on activity, and maybe the activity would be a catalyst for [the Youth Council] this year.”

 

Tara Bursey
Coordinator

“[Banner-making] is something that can be learned and used when you go to a protest… It’s a piece that links to activism. Instead of just learning or hearing about things, [banner making] is a form of action,” explained Hamid.

The members of the WAHC Youth Council were also joined by youth who had never heard of the centre before. Alexane Heredia, a French student who is learning English in Hamilton, came out to the event hoping to meet new people and learn something new.

“I’m super happy to discover a place like that. I’m thinking to come back as a volunteer… I come from France, so I chose to write ‘yes we can’ in French next to Simone Veil,” said Heredia.

“She’s a very important feminist leader in France. Thanks to her, we have the right to abortion. She’s a very respectful and important woman for us, and she [passed away] a few months ago so I chose to honour her.”

Other attendees printed and painted Huda Sha’arawi, a pioneering Egyptian feminist leader and author, Simone de Beauvoir, a French political activist and existentialist philosopher and Rosemary Brown, the first Black Canadian woman to run for federal party leadership.

The banner making workshop and film screening fulfilled WAHC’s purpose of engaging the community with the contemporary experiences of workers and labour history, while also paving the way for the Youth Council’s future initiatives.

“The purpose of today’s event is to gauge people’s interests and for the youth to see where their interests take them through this hands-on activity, and maybe the activity would be a catalyst for [the Youth Council] this year,” explained Bursey.

Dolores Huerta’s strengths, struggles and powerful words are serving as the inspiration and foundation for this year’s youth initiatives at WAHC. “Sí se puede” will continue to be the anthem for pushing the limits and making strides through activism, here in Hamilton, and beyond.

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre is a multidisciplinary art centre and community museum located at 51 Stuart Street. McMaster students, especially those studying or have an interest in the arts, sociology, labour studies or activism are encouraged to be part of the Youth Council.

 

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Author: Razan Samara

Arts and Culture Reporter Razan Samara is a second year Life Science student writer and community advocate. When she isn't taking a nap on a go bus, she spends her evenings watching crappy sci-fi series and mourning their subsequent cancelation.