86-year-old Pittsburg native receives Cesar Chavez award
Written by Rick Radin, Contra Costa Times
PITTSBURG -- Edna Huerta's life takes in 86 years of Pittsburg history.
Her father was working at the U.S. Steel plant, now USS-POSCO, when she was born in 1924. He later ran a butcher shop on Black Diamond Street in the city's downtown.
Huerta took an interest in her Latino heritage and worked in the community to help those less fortunate.
She collected and delivered clothes to migrant workers in Brentwood, primarily farm country at the time.
"I encouraged the sons and daughters of the workers to finish school and go to college," Huerta said. "The kids would have to work out in the fields. I said, 'You can go to college and better yourself.' "
For her lifetime of work with the underprivileged and her efforts on behalf of Hispanic immigrants, last month Huerta received the 2011 Cesar Chavez Award from Los Medanos College.
The tribute is given to those "who continue the tradition of service and social activism exemplified by the late human rights activist and United Farmworkers leader," according to sponsors.
"One of the things that stood out to me was to see a woman who has dedicated a lifetime to this community," said Rosa Armendariz, a Los Medanos faculty member. "She speaks from a place of humility, as a parent, a mother, raising a family."
After Huerta's mother died when she was 9 years old, her father and stepmother raised her and her six brothers and sisters. Her only surviving sibling, 93-year-old Eva Tistareno, lives in Antioch.
"Pittsburg had a downtown, with a J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward and Sears. That kind of died," Huerta said. "Now, they're trying to rebuild it."
Huerta was hired by the county in the 1970s as a social worker and began a 31-year career doing some of the same things she had done as a volunteer.
"(The federal) Model Cities program came in, and I joined that organization and then got hired by the county in the poverty program," Huerta said. "I went to work for the social services department as a community aide and climbed the ladder."
Huerta said she remembers very little racism in Pittsburg when she was young, but she became involved in protests over alleged discrimination against Hispanics at Pittsburg High School in 1980.
"There were some teachers telling students to go back to Mexico," she said. "The kids marched out of the classrooms to the administration building and went before the school board."
She was also active in the United Farmworkers' table grape boycott, led by Chavez, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover said Huerta was one of a group of parents who sponsored a tutorial program for Pittsburg students at the Marina Community Center.
"I went to school with her children," Glover said. "She's been active on a number of community boards and commissions, including the Model Cities program."
Since retiring from the county in 1999, she has devoted more time to organizing activities at the Pittsburg Senior Center.
She raised eight children with her husband, David Huerta, who died in 1979.
"I worked until I was 73 because I had to pay off my house after my husband died," Huerta said. "He was always encouraging me, telling me, 'Don't give up, keep going.' "
Contact Rick Radin at 925-779-7166.