The community room of the Gilroy Library transformed into a walk-through installation on Nov. 5, depicting the life of civil rights champion and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, Dolores Huerta, who coined the phrase, “Sí se puede” (Yes, we can).
Huerta briefly taught school in the 1950s, but witnessing so many farmworkers’ children coming to school hungry, she soon realized she could do more to help them. That work is documented in the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition, “Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields/Revolucion en los Campos,” which offers larger-than-life posters, photos, artwork and iconic quotes that transport visitors through a journey of the Latina civil rights icon from her early childhood, through the height of her career.
Mayor Marie Blankley and Gilroy City Councilmember Zach Hilton were in attendance on opening day.
“I’m wowed by the exhibit,” Blankley said. “It’s beautifully done, it’s very professional and authentic looking.”
“Having the Dolores Huerta Smithsonian exhibit come to Gilroy on a national level is just huge,” Hilton added.
Jennifer Weeks, SCCLD county librarian, explained that a focus of the Smithsonian is outreach.
“And public libraries are all about lifelong learning so it’s a perfect connection,” Weeks said. “This particular work is so impactful in Gilroy, to have this opportunity to look back and look forward with these exhibits is really exciting.”
Weeks added she hopes everyone takes advantage of this experience. The exhibit is on display through Jan. 22.
On Nov. 12, a follow-up event took place at Wheeler Center, when Huerta made a personal appearance in Gilroy to participate in a Hispanic Heritage Month panel discussion moderated by NBC Bay Area news reporter, Damian Trujillo. The event was a sell-out, although it was a free event sponsored by the library.
A recording of the panel discussion is available on SCCLD’s YouTube channel, bit.ly/3tqvrYC.
Additional activities also took place that day at the library, including performances by local Aztec dancers, Mariachi singers and food trucks.
“The library wanted to make it a full day event,” children’s librarian Elizabeth Munoz-Rosas said.
It was Munoz-Rosas who orchestrated the journey to bring this exhibit to Gilroy. It began in March 2021 when she received a call from a representative at the Smithsonian who she’d previously worked with, asking if the library would be interested in hosting the exhibit. Immediately she reached out to SCCLD’s deputy librarian Stephen Fitzgerald, who was happy to green light the project.
Next came the completion of the extensive 30-page application.
“They asked for detailed information in terms of our fire codes, our insurance, photos, blueprints of the library, the flooring, all this stuff,” Munoz-Rosas said. “I got to know the building and it was a very beautiful learning experience for me.”
One week after submitting the application she received official confirmation that the exhibit would be coming to Gilroy Library.
Munoz-Rosas then met and partnered with SCCLD’s marketing team to create a detailed timeline to ensure everything would be completed in time, and all specifications required by the Smithsonian, and there were countless, would be followed to the letter.
By September of this year, everything was in place and marketing of the exhibit got underway. Thanks to Munoz-Rosas’ outreach to numerous outside agencies and partnerships in San Jose, Salinas, and Santa Clara, the word quickly spread.
“The power of the name of Dolores Huerta and the sense of doing a community program, everybody wants to promote it and help,” she said. “It’s interesting how much power a name can have and how much it can open doors.”
Equally important to Munoz-Rosas was informing the youth of the community about the exhibit. In conjunction with the California Department of Education, which offers a Dolores Huerta curriculum for K-5, she brought the program to local elementary and middle schools.
“So that when they come to view the exhibit, they are familiar with her. We want a community where we can raise our children where they see opportunity for growth and development,” she said.
Eliot Elementary was the first to tour the exhibit.
“It was just very beautiful to see they knew the language and they knew what was important, not only about Dolores and the message she tried to bring across, but also the importance of social issues we can encounter,” Munoz-Rosas said.
While leading the tour of the installation she told them, “Take a look at her, does she look any different from you or me? We all can do it; we can all move forward despite our obstacles.”
Thanks to countless individuals and organizations throughout Gilroy, and beyond, including South County Task Force, Gilroy’s Parks and Recreation department, Rebekah Children’s Services, Resilient Families Gilroy, and Latino Family Fund de Gilroy, to name just a few, opening day of the exhibition was a complete success, Munoz-Rosas said.
“I think when they hear the name, Dolores Huerta, there is a sentiment of community collaboration. There is always a feeling of ‘yes we can,’” she said.
Gilroy Community Librarian Cassandra Wong recognizes the scope of this accomplishment and credits the culmination of hard work by many agencies in the community.
“We appreciate the support of the city and our community-based organizations here,” she said. “We hope everyone attends and enjoys, and looks forward to the discussions and dialogue this exhibit will create.”
Kelly Young, supervising teen and adult librarian, considers this an amazing opportunity for the community of Gilroy.
“We’re so excited that Elizabeth took the initiative to bring it here,” Young said. “It’s so uplifting, and people can really walk away from this feeling good and motivated. Taking that as an inspiration.”
Reflecting over the past 18 months of work and preparation, the librarian had a startling revelation.
“I realized I was actually living through what Dolores Huerta teaches us to implement: ‘working in collaboration and empowering the people,’ and I was feeling so empowered,” she said.
To provide an all-inclusive experience of the exhibit, a free bilingual app is available for download at apps.apple.com/us/app/dolores-huerta/id1447280199.