Apr 14, 2014
The movie Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña, gives a sense of the determined fight carried out by the farm workers in California, but it praises aspects of Chavez’s leadership that were actually problems for the workers.
Chavez was the best-known Mexican-American leader, for whom numerous schools and parks are named. Unusually for such a hero in this country, he was a leader of workers.
The movie is a drama showing Chavez’s life and leadership of the farm workers in California up through the victory in the grape strike of 1970. It is worth seeing because it gives a picture of the farm workers’ lives and of their determined struggle. In a time like this when worker struggles are rare, this movie shows one important moment when some of the most oppressed workers in the country organized and fought back to improve their lives.
However, the way Chavez led these fights caused problems. The movie vividly shows Chavez’s 25-day fast for non-violence. But it does not clearly explain that this fast was directed against members of the union who wanted to use force against strike breakers and thugs. Any democratic debate and control of their struggle by the workers was impossible with Chavez as the suffering holy man.
The movie also shows the large numbers of outside supporters who came to Delano to help with the strike. But Chavez’s reliance on these volunteers after the victory of the grape strike, as the union tried to spread the movement to other crops, ultimately caused problems for the workers because they kept the movement from being controlled by the workers themselves.
Despite the problems of Chavez’s leadership, this movie is definitely worth seeing for the picture it gives of this important struggle in the fields, which greatly inspired millions of Mexican-Americans and other workers.