Cecilia Olivarez Huerta was proud of her heritage.
She stressed the importance of it to her four children by taking them to cultural events and signing them up for dance groups.
And for more than a decade, she advocated for the Latino community in Nebraska, including on a project to document the history and traditions of the community in the state.
Olivarez Huerta died Thursday, May 2. She was 74.
“We were always aware of all the stuff she was doing, but not the impact and the way it touched many, many people,” said her daughter Janet Fiala.
Olivarez Huerta was born and raised in Bayard, Nebraska, where she often helped her parents work beet fields in the area. She also helped care for her younger siblings.
In the 1960s, she attended the Lincoln School of Commerce. She was the first Latina from western Nebraska to attend the school, her daughters said.
Olivarez Huerta was involved in the Mexican American Student Association, or MASA, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Members of the group called her the “godmother of MASA,” said her daughter Anita Olivarez Eisenhauer.
She often juggled multiple jobs while raising her four children. She continued her own education, taking classes on business, leadership and Spanish.
“She was a very hardworking person who tried to provide the best that she could for us,” Fiala said. “Sometimes that meant having two jobs and doing with little for herself so we had what we needed.”
In 1994, Olivarez Huerta started work with the Nebraska Latino American Commission, then known as the Mexican American Commission. She served as the organization’s executive director until she retired in 2010.
As director, she proposed legislation, and conducted hearings, conferences and programs for Latinos living in Nebraska. She also was involved in the Nebraska Meatpackers Bill of Rights and the Nebraska DREAM Act.
One of her proudest achievements was done in collaboration with the Nebraska State Historical Society. She helped to document stories of Mexican American traditions in the state.
Another highlight was an invitation from former President Bill Clinton to serve on a diversity council, Olivarez Eisenhauer said.
“She showed us by example,” Olivarez Eisenhauer said. “We saw her at the front of the fights in many instances, and so she demonstrated for us by example what it was like to speak up for people.”
In her free time, Olivarez Huerta enjoyed maintaining her garden and cooking for family and friends. She often whipped up beans, rice, enchiladas and menudo. She taught her children how to make tortillas when they were young.
Olivarez Huerta is also survived by son Michael Eisenhauer, daughter Monica Olivarez Eisenhauer, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, four siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.
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