Despite the amount of documents, pictures and recordings available to journalists and historians, the life of Cesar Chavez wasnt fully told. Until recently. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the new book of Miriam Pawel, may in big part fill such hole.
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Pawel previously published The Union of their Dreams, an extensive and well documented series of profiles of several prominent farmworkers leaders who were purged by Chavez when they were part of the same organization, and their work improved peasants labor conditions.
Published this year by Bloomsburry Press, the 500-plus pages The Crusades of Cesar Chavez brings the life and work of the Latino farmworkers leader to a new dimension by leaving aside myths and prejudices.
Glorified by thousands of Latinos in USA, even considered to the status of almost a saint, to write about Cesar Chavez isnt an easy task.
Ironically, new generations of Latinos as well as present farmworkers dont know who he was.
The Crusades of Cesar Chavez
In both books I dedicated nine years, said Pawel during a phone interview with VOXXI. Regarding the title of the new book, the Los Angeles-based journalist and author explained that Chavez was a crusader of many causes, he was an union leader as well as a movement leader.
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was almost the equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr. for Latinos.
In the 1960s, he started to organize farmworkers in Californias Central Valley with very little support.
As his organization grew, and with the growing support of individuals, religious leaders and organizations, Chavez created the United Farm Workers (UFW), a unique union representing the most vulnerable segment of the population.
Chavez made famous the word huelga!
Which became a call for action in the fields on behalf of underpaid and overworked peasants.
In addition to this, he implemented with great success an international boycott against the grape industry, forcing the untouchables growers to the negotiating table.
His major victory came in 1975 when California passed a law regulating farmworkers process to get union representation.
But Chavez was mostly interested on developing a poors people movement, and the UFW started its decline, loosing contracts an supporters.
His death happened while fighting in court against a vegetable producer close to the town where he was born in Arizona.
The value of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez lays in the information and details of Chavezs vision and the plans and actions he took to achieve them. But also, the book gives us an important insight of the leader’s maneuvers against both his adversaries as well as his internal competitors for the control of the organization.
I wrote about Chavez great moments but also about his weaknesses, explained Pawel. For those emotionally involved in the Latino movement of that time, this is a hard book to read.
Pawel portraits Chavez as a human being, not as a saint a remarkable achievement considering the existing literature about the farmworkers leader.
Nevertheless, the book keep a balance and the writer doesnt become the judge.
Even more, Pawel does an excellent job connecting to dots of Chavez thoughts, which often times shunted fierce confrontations between UFW organizers.
She also dedicated time and space to keep basic updated information about the many organizers who were expelled from the UFW as a result of Chavezs increasing concern to control his organization.
The book is well written, the story flows naturally and leaves plenty of room for the reader to analyze or think about the amazing crusades of a poor farmworker who once dreamed to make a change and fight for justice.