On a day when people from all over Albuquerque typically gather at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to celebrate the annual Recuerda a César Chávez la marcha de justicia and fiesta, the streets fell quiet.
Although the streets may have been silent, it didn't stop new street signs renaming a stretch of Bridge Boulevard to Avenida Dolores Huerta from rising to their new spots this week. This year's celebration planned to include a dedication to Huerta for her contributions to the United Farm Workers labor movement and unveil the new intersection where Avenida Cesar Chavez and Avenida Dolores Huerta meet.
"It really was a labor of love," said Diana Montoya, Las Mujeres member and chair of the Avenida Dolores Huerta Project. "What I like to call it is more than a street sign. I think that a lot of people are in agreement that it becomes more than a sign, that it becomes a destination. It becomes a place where visitors will come and see that here we have this tribute to these two icons, these two civil rights heroes."
Montoya said this intersection is the first in the United States to bear the names of two civil rights leaders that worked side by side. Avenida Dolores Huerta travels from Fourth Street to Isleta Boulevard, ending at the Dolores Huerta Gateway Park.
The work to rename the street began about two years ago when Montoya was inspired by the film "Dolores" and brought the idea to Las Mujeres, a 39-year-old organization working to address issues women and their children face.
"It really struck me that there was this woman — this dynamic, this co-founder of the United Farm Workers movement who played a significant role in making that happen — didn't get the recognition that she should have," Montoya said.
Huerta rose to prominence as an activist along with Chavez in the 1960s when they organized the National Farm Workers Association. Not only did Huerta advocate on behalf of farmworkers at the political level, but the movement was also defined by several grassroots campaigns and boycotts, such as the national boycott on California table grapes.
"Her history, her life, her legacy and what she continues to do now at the age of 90 is just unbelievable," Linda Benavides, co-chair of the Recuerda a César Chávez Committee (RCCC), said. "When you think about the recognition that should be given to her, there really wasn't recognition there."
Benavides is a cousin to Dolores Huerta through her husband's side of the family. RCCC works to organize the annual Recuerda a César Chávez marcha de justicia and fiesta. She said the event is tentatively rescheduled to the end of August.
"To this day she still fights for justice, for equality, for economic justice for everyone," Benavides said. "And when you look at the recognition, you stop and you think of the number of people who still do not know who Dolores Huerta is. So, these are little small steps that we take in regards to who is this woman and how well known should she be."
Montoya said the idea for the street renaming was immediately greeted with excitement, and the group utilized grassroots organizing and their New Mexican connections to move it forward. However, renaming a street is more difficult than naming one.
"Bridge Boulevard has always been part of the South Valley community, and it was something that they held dear to them," Montoya said. "You really have to be respectful to make sure that they have a say in what's happening."
Luckily, she said that they didn't have any opposition and gained the support of many local politicians, including Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada and Albuquerque City Councilors Klarissa Peña, Cynthia Borrego and Issac Benton.
"We need to celebrate our own, and Dolores is from New Mexico," Montoya said. "She was born here. It's a wonderful thing to celebrate our own heroes."
Huerta herself planned to come, celebrate and march with Burqueños just days before her 90th birthday, but the COVID-19 pandemic and regulations by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham limiting large gatherings forced the celebration to be postponed.
Although the festivities were canceled, it didn't stop Montoya from celebrating in her own way at her home. She received a journal featuring Huerta and her family at the New Mexico Roundhouse, and she said she spent the day journaling about her efforts to rename Bridge Boulevard and what the day could have been.
"I really want to connect with Dolores and just really learn a lot more from her," Montoya said. "I don't want to just stop at a sign. When you have a hero, you want to emulate that hero, and she is still so involved."
Makayla Grijalva is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MakaylaEliboria