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Renowned labor rights activist Dolores Huerta urged audience members on Tuesday morning to tell their neighbors how important the upcoming 2020 census is.

“For each one of us that gets counted, we bring in $20,000 into our community,” she said. “Over 10 years, $20,000. If you have a family of four, how much are we going to lose? That money is going to health care, to infrastructure, to education. We’re not going to have that money if they don’t get counted. We know in the Latino community we’ll be very adversely affected if we do not get counted.”

Huerta spoke Tuesday at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s first annual chairwoman’s breakfast. Erica Gonzalez, chairwoman of the chamber of commerce, asked Huerta questions in a half-hour interview at the Pearl Stable. Around 370 people attended the event.

The event comes on the heels of the unexpected departure of chamber CEO Diane Sánchez, who cited an “abusive and hostile environment” in her January resignation letter.

Huerta, who is known for founding the National Farmworkers Association labor union alongside César Chávez in California, said one of her biggest accomplishments was passing a law that allowed any citizen to register people to vote in California. In Texas, people must find volunteer deputy registrars that have been trained and credentialed or go to places such as their local elections department in order to register to vote.

“In Texas, you have the same voter registration procedures we had in California 47 years ago,” she said. “What does that say? I call it voter suppression. You have to change that law. There is no reason for people to find volunteer deputy registrar to register to vote.”

She also stressed the importance of labor unions. Labor leaders fought for services such as public education and safety standards, Huerta said.

“How many people in the audience know how we got the eight-hour day?” Huerta asked, scanning the room. “For those of you who don’t know, it was because there were some labor union leaders who fought for an eight-hour day.”

Huerta, who will turn 90 in April, continues her advocacy work to this day though her foundation and knocking on doors. She was arrested last August in Fresno, California while protesting for home care workers to receive a living wage.

Her foundation is working hard not only to educate people on the importance of being counted in the census but also on the importance of voting, she said.

“I want to remind all of us of the power we have,” Huerta said. “The Latinos together with the African American community, with women, feminists – we are the referees in the election. We can call the election. We can make it happen.”

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Gonzalez said having Huerta speak Tuesday corresponded well with initiatives the chamber plans to roll out later this year.

“I felt Dolores Huerta was a really good example of using our voice,” she said.

“She is one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met,” Gonzalez added. “It’s been a true honor.”

At the end of the question-and-answer session, 89-year-old Huerta rose to her feet.

“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to organize around the census and getting out the vote and changing the laws that need changing in the state of Texas,” Huerta said. “What do we say, ¿se puede o no se puede?

¡Sí se puede!” the audience roared back.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.