Cecilia Olivarez Huerta, former director of Nebraska’s Mexican American Commission, died Thursday.
Olivarez Huerta suffered complications of kidney disease. The 74-year-old entered hospice last month.
“Cecilia was a tireless advocate and leader who never stopped pointing out the role and importance of Mexican Americans in Nebraska’s history, culture and economic achievements,” the Nebraska Commission on Latino Affairs said in a news release Monday.
“Her death leaves deep emptiness in the hearts of those who advocate for Latino Americans in general and Mexican Americans specifically.”
Olivarez Huerta was raised in the small town of Bayard in the Panhandle. She became a mother figure to Mexican American students at UNL and went on to lead the Mexican American Commission, now the Nebraska Commission on Latino Affairs, from 1994 to 2009.
Those she mentored called her a servant leader and a living example of Cesar Chavez. She was an integral part of the Nebraska Meatpackers Bill of Rights and the Nebraska DREAM Act. She took part in a Presidential Diversity Advisory Committee during the Clinton years and was honored with countless awards for her work.
She collaborated with the Nebraska State Historical Society and Nebraska’s Chicano communities on “Mexican American Traditions in Nebraska,” a project that included oral histories, a photo exhibit, a radio series and a published report.
Olivarez Huerta leaves four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She gave her children the discipline of routine and social connections.
And she went to battle for those who had no voice, her daughter, Anita Olivarez Eisenhauer, told the Journal Star last month.
“She worked in the beet fields as a child; she knew the drive and hard work.”
She knew the power of history, too, Holly Burns told the paper in that story, published April 22.
“Mexican Americans have been here 100 years, 125 years now. She would help people have an expanded understanding that not everyone who comes into this country came here recently.”
Imagine the history of Nebraska as a quilt, Burns said.
“She is the person who threaded the history of Mexican Americans into that quilt.”