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State funding for Dolores Huerta cultural center celebrated in downtown Bakersfield | News

After a lifetime spent advocating for the civil rights of farmworkers, Dolores Huerta was still surprised when she learned of plans to honor her legacy with a multi-million dollar community center in downtown Bakersfield.

“When this was first presented to me at the foundation, I thought, ‘really?’” she told a crowd gathered at the site of the future facility during a ceremony on Wednesday. “It took a lot of people working together to make this happen.”

The ceremony was held to celebrate the passage of the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, which includes a $15 million allocation for the Dolores Huerta Peace and Justice Cultural Center. The allocation nearly fully funds the center, which is planned for 2100 H Street, at the site of the Self-Help Federal Credit Union.

The future headquarters of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the center will also contain a youth center, early childhood development programs, a cultural center honoring the many diverse people who lived in the Central Valley, along with an auditorium for events.

“It’s going to be about working for social justice and making sure that our children get the equality education that they deserve, which they do not have here in the San Joaquin Valley,” Huerta said. “We know that none of this is going to happen unless we all work together to make it happen.”

Funding for the site has been sought for years, Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, said on Wednesday. The center is seen as the first local tribute to Huerta, who has been recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award in the United States – for her work forming the predecessor to the United Farm Workers and negotiating collective bargaining agreements for farm workers starting in the 1960s.

She has inspired generations of politicians and activists, including Salas, who spoke on Wednesday of Huerta’s influence on his life.

“It is not often that you get to consider a living icon a friend,” he said, “but I’m grateful and honored to consider Dolores a friend, and someone from whom l have learned so much.”

The Dolores Huerta Foundation hopes to finish construction of the $20 million project by the end of 2022. The foundation believes the center will help revitalize downtown Bakersfield by not only bringing people and events to the area, but instilling pride in a population that has often been overlooked.

“It’s going to change Bakersfield,” said State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, who pushed for the funding in the Senate. “It’s going to change it for the better because people are going to be able to come here and they’re going to learn the history of the valley as told by people of color. We’re going to get (Huerta’s) story told so that young girls, young Latinos can realize we’ve been here a long time, we’ve been working a long time, we’ve been contributing to the community for a long time.”

The Self-Help Credit Union, which takes up a portion of the property, has a long history with Huerta. In 2010, the credit union merged with Kern Central Credit Union, which had merged with the Farm Workers Credit Union in 1995. Founded in 1963 by Cesar Chavez and Huerta, the Farm Workers Credit Union served as the first financial institution for farm workers in Kern County.

“We knew from day one, that with all this extra land, we had to do something special,” Self-Help President Steve Zuckerman said. “We had to do something that would add to the community of Bakersfield and the Central Valley. Truth be told, we’ve had lots of people propose projects for that piece of land and we just couldn’t get excited about it until Emilio (Huerta) called and said, ‘have we got an idea for you.’”

Self-Help will remain on the property, but plans to move its building adjacent to the cultural center.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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