PICTURED: Dolores Huerta speaking at A & P Headquarters, Thanksgiving visit, 1973 Photo by Jorge Corralejo

NOTE: AS OF MARCH 13, the Museum of Ventura County, the Research Library, the Albinger Museum and the Agriculture Museum have closed and all events are now cancelled due to concerns related to COVID-19. All institutions will remain closed until March 31, at which time staff will reassess the situation.

This article was edited on March 11 to reflect the postponement of the March 19 talk with Dolores Huerta.

by Emily Dodi

Sometime this year, legendary civil rights activist and community organizer Dolores Huerta will be giving a talk at the Museum of Ventura County. Huerta founded the United Farm Workers union (originally the National Farmworkers Association) with Cesar Chavez and has been fighting for labor rights and social justice ever since. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, Huerta was originally scheduled to speak on March 19 “about her years working with the UFW, her work building community and organizing for change, and so much more.”

“The talk sold out within days of its announcement,” says Denise Sindelar, the museum’s deputy director. Unfortunately, Huerta’s March 19 talk has been postponed “due to rapidly evolving coronavirus concerns,” as stated on the museum’s website. “Ms. Huerta has agreed to appear at the Museum at a future date, yet to be determined (ideally this spring or early summer). Those individuals wishing to hold on to their tickets are encouraged to do so. Anyone wishing to receive a refund may request one by emailing Scott Gordon at sgordon@venturamuseum.org.”

Safeway boycott, Oxnard, 1973 Photo by Jorge Corralejo

In the meantime, the museum offers its accompanying exhibit, Huelga! Photographs from the Frontlines by Jorge Corralejo, which runs through June 7. The exhibit, which takes its name from the Spanish word for strike, contains more photographs and ephemera than one museum can hold. The dual-site exhibit will stretch across the Museum of Ventura County and the Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula, where it will be on display starting March 14 in Ventura and March 20 in Santa Paula

“A longtime local activist and civic leader,” Corralejo was on the frontlines with Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. “I never went anywhere without my camera,” he recalls. The exhibit culls from Corralejo’s expansive personal collection of photographs that he took during the labor strikes of the 1970s, ranging from “the Boston A&P strikes to the streets of Oxnard.”

The photographs — including many that will go into the museum’s archives — have been digitized for posterity. As Sindelar points out, they represent a valuable record of Ventura County history. The exhibit also includes numerous pieces from Corralejo’s vast collection of ephemera, including banners, participant medals from various constitutional and political conventions, bumper stickers, buttons and more. 

Each one tells a story, something that Corralejo has been doing most of his life — as an advocate for workers’ civil and human rights, as a writer and publisher of progressive materials and as a champion of the rights of small business owners.

Corralejo’s sense of justice began when he was growing up in Moorpark, where he worked picking oranges and lemons. “I saw the abuses and the unfair and unjust ways that people were treated. INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] came on payday to pick people up and new people [farmworkers] showed up the next week . . . Supervisors would tease people and shout ‘Immigration is here!’ ” and watch people run away in fear, “all for their own amusement.” Corralejo could not abide what he saw. “Farmworkers are some of the hardest working people in the nation,” he says. So when the farmworkers went on strike, Corralejo joined them. “I was fortunate I had a camera. I was able to shoot the front line.”

Marching to boycott lettuce, Waltham, Mass., 1973 Photo by Jorge Corralejo

Corralejo’s photography documents an important part of our nation’s history and a fight for civil rights and social justice that continues to this day.

Sindelar emphasizes the importance of the exhibit, pointing out that “history is always relevant. The past, present and future are one connected thread. There are no separate eras. We carry history forward. We are a product of our collective history.”

That history comes to light, reminding us that we have the power to shape the present and the future every day, with every action. Dolores Huerta and Jorge Corralejo are living examples of that. 

While the Museum of Ventura County has honored one strong woman (Lupe Anguiano) this month, and will celebrate another (Dolores Huerta) at a later time, it will acknowledge the contributions of many women in August, when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, the amendment granted women the right to vote. On Sunday, Aug. 23, the museum will host a March in celebration of women’s suffrage, and participants are invited to dress in period costumes. Then, in October, the museum will exhibit the works of Margaret Garcia, one of the leaders of the L.A. Chicano Art Movement — and who currently has a selection of her works on display at Vita Art Center.

Huelga! Photographs from the Frontline by Jorge Corralejo, March 14-June 7 at the Museum of Ventura County,100 E. Main St., Ventura. Opening reception on Saturday, March 14, 2-4 p.m. For more information, call  805-653-0323 or visit venturamuseum.org. Huelga! opens March 20 at the Agriculture Museum, 926 Railroad Ave., Santa Paula. For more information, call 805.525.3100 or visit venturamuseum.org/visit-agriculture-museum/.