As civil right activist Dolores Huerta walked on the H Street sidewalk downtown, you could hear a loud “We love you Dolores” coming from a driver of a passing vehicle.
The 93-year-old labor leader was headed to the Laborers Union Hall for a Tuesday morning press conference to announce millions of dollars for the Dolores Huerta Peace and Justice Cultural Center.
Huerta’s daughter, Camila Chávez, said it was a “pivotal moment” in their journey to “creating a lasting legacy.”
That journey began four years ago as a $20 million center in honor of Huerta.
The project encountered pandemic challenges: Inflation, and increased material and supply costs that added substantially to construction costs. Those challenges tested their resolve, and at the end their dedication proved stronger, Chávez said.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation’s $32 million investment in downtown Bakersfield will be located on 21st Street and Eye Street and will include an auditorium, an outdoor event center, a youth lounge, a production studio and a community resource center. The second floor will house the foundation offices.
“We want the center to be dedicated to working people, the people who feed us,” Huerta said. ”We want to empower people so that they can be partners in making their lives better and making the community better.
Chávez announced an additional “generous contribution” of $7 million from the state at the same time the foundation closed escrow for the purchase of the downtown property for the center. The press conference was held a block away from the future center.
Two years ago, the state provided $15 million, with the help of then-Assemblymember Rudy Salas, to help build the state-of-the-art center that will provide a permanent location in Kern County to honor Huerta’s legacy.
Chávez said the new contribution will ensure that their vision of the 32,000-square-foot building as “a beacon of inspiration and education for future generations here in our region.”
The foundation, said Chávez, is still $6 million shy of the $32 million needed to complete the center. The state has contributed $22 million and the foundation has raised $4 million. Construction of the center is scheduled to start in 2024, with completion expected in 2026.
State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, said the center will empower people in the Valley.
“It is a hub to train educate, activate and empower the community and neighboring communities as well,” Caballero said. “I’m particularly excited about the youth leadership, development programs and equitable educational opportunities to address discriminatory practices and alarmingly high illiteracy rates.”
Caballero said the center will provide educational opportunities to learn about the important history of immigrants in the San Joaquín Valley and their contributions to California.
When she first learned about the project, Assemblymember Dr. Jasmeet Bains, D-Delano, said the center mattered “because our history matters. If we don’t invest in places where we made sure to preserve our history, we are doomed to repeat those mistakes.”
Bains, who practices family medicine, is elated about the mental health resources that will be housed in the center.
“This is going to be the mecca of virtually all of the resources in a community, mental health, youth access, making sure that the community is connected,” Bains said.
“This is a hub for education, for advocacy, that will offer a wide range of resources and support for those seeking to make a meaningful difference in their communities, our future leaders, advocates and change-makers,” said Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, chair of Latino Legislative Caucus.
Cervantes, D-Riverside, said the center will “inspire future generations to continue to fight for justice and equality because the cause always continues.”
Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas said he wanted to highlight the importance of the project as a “place where every person in this region and across California can learn about the pioneering work of Dolores Huerta.”
“It’s going to be a place that I know is going to inspire and empower the next generation,” said Rivas, D-Salinas.
The conference also included an interactive hologram exhibit of Dolores Huerta to be located at the future center.
What to know about the Dolores Huerta Peace and Justice Cultural Center:
The multicultural community center complex coverg an entire city block in downtown Bakersfield.
The foundation selected the location in downtown Bakersfield as part of its long-term commitment to revitalize the Eye Street corridor.
Will serve as the headquarters for the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
The Peace & Justice Cultural Center will include:
▪ A youth center for empowerment and leadership development programs
▪ A preschool for early childhood development integrating parent empowerment
▪ A cultural center honoring those who contributed to the rich history and economy of the Central Valley (Native Americans, Dust Bowl settlers, Arabs, Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, Filipinos and Latinos)
▪ An auditorium and outdoor event center for cultural & community events as well as meeting spaces for local organizations
▪ The Dolores Huerta Foundation offices and the Dolores Huerta Organizing Leadership Academy