Chants of “Si, Se Puede!” and the its English equivalent, “Yes, We Can!” broke out after a showing of “Dolores” at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. These chants are synonymous with the United Farm Workers Union as well as the slogan of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The origin of this chant is often credited to Cesar Chavez who was one of the co-founders of the United Farm Workers Union. However, the point of showing “Dolores” was to show an overlooked and nearly forgotten woman, Dolores Huerta, who was the one who suggested they use the slogan asa key figure in the fight to unionize migrant workers in California.
After the film, the audience listened to a panel discussion by Sandra Enriquez, a history professor at UMKC, as well as Fran Marion and Bridget Hughes, members of Stand Up Kansas City that promote a $15 minimum wage. Mary Kay Henry, first female president of the Service Employees International Union, was also included in the panel. There was an additional panelist that came as a surprise; Jacquie Fernandez Lenati, the great niece of Huerta. With Lenati’s ancestors having lived in the territory that the United States won from Mexico, it posed the question of, “What does it mean to be American?”
“My family did not cross border but the border crossed us and Dolores loves Kansas City and is still active,” Lenati said.
Another discussion point in the panel was the importance of educating students about women in the labor union who often go unnoticed. The teaching of ethnic studies in schools has been contested with Arizona, only recently ruling a law against deeming these teachings unconstitutional.
“Women of color can see what women have done for years,” said Enriquez. “Dolores and other women were the backbone of the movement and the glue that held it together and the largely go unrecognized.”
Working to raise minimum wage continues to be a hot topic locally and nationally. Both Hughes and Marion work in the fast food industry and still struggle to make a living wage to support themselves and their children.
“In Kansas City, a $22 minimum wage is needed for a two-bedroom apartment but we start a push at $15 because that’s the minimum wage needed to live,” said Hughes.
Yet there are many people who say this movement will not succeed and the activists should just give up.
“Sometimes you just want to quit,” Enriquez confessed. “But there are so many stories from social movements that show people do the impossible and show that history has been made before and can be made again.”
The recent discussion panel encouraged listeners to vote not just in national elections, but also local elections.
For those who want to get involved, join Stand Up KC on their website at standupkc.org.