DELANO, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern County region is full of diversity. The Hispanic and Latinx communities make up a great portion of that diversity.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is steadily growing and expanding. Since the last census in 2010, there has been a 20.99 percent increase in the community which is equal to a growth of about 86,125 people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. The Hispanic Latinx community makes up over half of Kern County's population at 54.9 percent which equates to about 499,158 people.
And most of that growth in the community's population can all be tied back to its history here in Kern County.
Kern County’s Hispanic roots go back centuries. But the most well-known story, a story known nationwide, is that of the farmworker’s movement. A movement that started in Delano, and spread across states, thank’s to the work of activists such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
Throughout the country, the legacy of the farm labor movement is felt to this day. A story sewn in the fields of Delano, where in 1965, Chavez rallied farmworkers and Americans to boycott the treatment of grape pickers.
“You know, my father once spoke about his motivation, and he said you know I’m motivated not by any fancy ideology. I’m angry. I’m angry that my mother had to have that conversation with me where she asked me to drop out of school to help feed her brothers and sisters," said Paul Chavez, son of Cesar Chavez. "I’m determined that no other mother has to have that conversation with their mother. So it was very personal to him.”
After five years, their effort paid off. In 1970 Delano farmworkers won a contract promising better pay and benefits. A move that eventually led to the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.
Alongside Chavez throughout his fight, were immigrants and activists like Filipino-American Larry Itliong and fellow organizer Dolores Huerta.
“The United Farm Workers Union, it’s interesting because it not only influenced what was happening here in the Central Valley, but it influence what was happening in Los Angeles, in Texas, in Arizona, because many young people from the colleges came here and that kinda inspired them," explained Huerta.
Huerta began community service in the fifties lobbying for changes in California for Latinos. It was through that early activism work she met Cesar Chavez.
Huerta worked doggedly to help Chavez establish the National Farm Workers Association, now known as the United Farmworkers Union.
"Throughout the southwest, the UFW had a huge huge influence. It wasn’t just a labor union, it was a civil rights movement because we were fighting against discrimination and not only how farmer workers, but how Latinos were being treated,” said Huerta.
Their perseverance. An act built from strength and desire. A desire to better the lives of those in their community.
And their strength. Leaving behind a legacy that lives on to this day through foundations created to continue their work, schools, and streets named after them, and murals and monuments erected to honor them.
Of course, their greatest legacy is the inspiration that others draw from them.
“When my dad and Dolores started, they were young people and they had this audacity to believe that they could make a difference. That’s the power of youthful optimism. You believe you can make a difference,” said Paul Chavez.
“I say this to people all the time, you want to leave your children a legacy of justice because if you do that, they will continue to do the work that needs to be done to better our communities,” added Huerta.
Meanwhile, the Dolores Huerta Foundation is spearheading controversial change in Kern County. It recently filed a lawsuit to change Kern's Latino majority voting districts. And changing school discipline policies that the Dolores Huerta Foundation claims discriminated towards black and Latino students. The foundation currently working to improve educational outcomes throughout Kern County.
While their names continue to be honored today and their children continue to carry on their passion for helping others the real legacy left behind by those leaders in the farmworkers' movement is the lessons to future generations about the power of standing up for what you believe in.