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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

OPA News Release: [05/29/2012]
Contact Name: Adrian Haro or Emilia Pablo-Montaņo
Phone Number: (202) 693-4665 or x4660
Release Number: 12-1090-NAT

Statement by Secretary Solis on Dolores Huerta receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today issued the following statement regarding the selection of Dolores Huerta for the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

"As a young girl growing up in La Puente, Calif., I was mesmerized by images of Dolores Huerta. I remember seeing in the newspaper the iconic photo of her holding up the HUELGA sign and seeing her on television, standing behind Robert F. Kennedy just seconds before he was assassinated.

"I thought she was beautiful, with a mane of raven-colored hair, eyes that danced, and a soft, sweet voice that carried an extraordinary message whenever she spoke to crowds. But for me, her true beauty came from the inside. She lived an authentic life, in service to others. Her passion was and is justice. She has for more than half a century dedicated her life to helping the men and women who harvest America's fields. She has advocated for non-violent protest and has taught people that they have both the personal power and the responsibility to work together to improve their lives. Back then, I never dreamed that I would ever meet her, let alone have the honor of calling her my friend.

"I don't know if Dolores inspired me to become a public servant, but I do know that she inspired — and insisted — that I become the best public servant I could be. We got to know each other in the early 1990s, when I was in the California State Legislature. Wherever there was injustice... Dolores was there. I remember one of our first meetings as if it were yesterday: I was serving in the State Senate and working with a group of female farmworkers who were organizing a union. There were reports of violence during the campaign, and Dolores came to my office in Sacramento to see me.

"She showed me a video of a man brutally throwing an entire crate of strawberries on the head of a woman working in the fields. When the video concluded, she looked up at me and simply said, ‘We need to do something. Let's get to work.' And we did, crafting legislation and collaborating closely with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in California. Our efforts made a difference.

"Dolores was no stranger to acts of violence or threats of intimidation against her. At the age of 58, she was beaten and nearly killed by a San Francisco police officer during a non-violent and lawful protest. She suffered broken bones but never a broken spirit.

"Today, President Obama will honor her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for a lifetime dedicated to workers' rights and social justice. She joins the ranks of other luminaries throughout history, including César Chávez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, who have received this much-deserved honor.

"At 82 years young, Dolores still continues to empower people through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which organizes low-income immigrant communities in the Central San Joaquin Valley for better access to education, health care, fair lending and a cleaner environment. Her passion for justice has expanded to include women's equality, reproductive rights and LGBT issues. Her dancing eyes and sweet voice continue to inspire people across the country and around the world, just like they did for a young girl from La Puente who grew up to be the first Latina in a president's Cabinet. Today, she is my mentor, adviser and wonderful friend. And she is still beautiful."