In the University Union, an installation was set up to highlight Central Coast farmworkers. Credit: Jessa Rosenthal / Mustang News

American labor activist and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta addressed members of the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo community Tuesday night to close off the symposium dedicated to ensuring Cal Poly’s goal of becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

A Hispanic-Serving Institution is a college or university with Hispanic/Latinx/Latine enrollment of at least 25%. Cal Poly is just under that goal with 24% of admits identifying as Latinx/e. 

The theme of the symposium was “¡Adelante!,” which translates to “forward,” and “aims to honor the past, celebrate the present, and envision a future filled with momentum and progress as Cal Poly works towards becoming an HSI that holistically serves and empowers the Latinx/e community,” as stated in a news release

During her address, Huerta noted the importance of education and the desire to belong for those who are often not given a seat at the table while being interviewed by Assistant Vice President for DEI Strategic Planning & Networks, Beya Makakau.

“Education is when people see opportunity, and follow their dreams,” Huerta said. “It’s extremely important for people to hear stories of themselves in the classroom, not only so students can feel seen and heard, but so they can begin to break down racism in our society.” 

If Cal Poly becomes an HSI, they will be awarded additional funding to support Latinx/e student funding during their college careers.

Huerta emphasizes that institutions need to stay true to their word when they honor and uplift different cultures and presses the importance of intersectionality as Cal Poly seeks to become an HSI. 

“Institutions have to set the example,” Huerta said. “Many corporate boards ask for me to speak to them to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, but then I ask how many people of color sit on your board? How many women sit on your board?” 

Throughout the entire keynote, Huerta expressed the urgency of people engaging and willing to give up their time in order for democracy and change to work. 

“We have a collective responsibility to make sure that we save democracy,” she said. “When we ask people to participate, we’re asking them to give up their time, but it’s a great thing to do and go out there and make the world a better place. We all have time, we don’t all have money.” 

Huerta’s keynote address closed with audience members standing and chanting Huerta’s coined phrase “Sí se puede,” a rallying call to the Cal Poly community about the importance of “fighting for our democracy, fighting for equity, fighting for inclusion and fighting for diversity,” Makekau said. 

Huerta, at 93 years old, urges everyone to keep fighting for what they believe in. 

“When you’re in school, you write about history,” she said. “You read about it, you talk about it. When you become an activist, you make history.”