Our current fascination with farm to table produce, owes an indebtedness to the legacy of César Chávez and the (UFW) United Farm Workers union. Chávez’s life is being celebrated in a newly released biopic, César Chávez: History is Made One Step at a Time. How ironic or telling perhaps, that Chávez was born in Arizona, a state that continues to struggle with bouts of injustice on issues of punitive immigration laws and most recently seen in Governor Jan Brewer’s reluctant vetoing of the anti-gay bill, SB-1062.
According to Chávez’s bio, when his family home and 40 acres of land were swindled from under them through unscrupulous business dealings, he was made urgently aware of Arizona’s kinship with social injustice. Thereafter, the family relocated to California, where Chávez began his journey as a young, migrant farm worker and activist. In 1962, he co-founded what would eventually become the (UFW), along with Dolores Huerta, a fiery, civil rights activist/organizer, who branded the phrase, “!Sí, Se Puede,” which loosely means, “Yes, we can do it.” Apparently this happened long before the Obama campaign co-opted the galvanizing call. (Huerta by the way is still alive. When will her story be told, Hollywood? I’m planning to research more of this woman’s daunting story, so check back next week.)
Often with Hollywood biopics, particularly of the “respectable” male figure across racial borders, there’s a tendency to present them as the unattainable ideal, the mythical hero, who assures “society” that it will survive. (I hear there’s a new film on the life of Noah and his indefatigable ark, that also opened this weekend!) Even as Tina Turner reminded us that “we don’t need another hero,” these complex figures, such as Chávez was, offer us compelling meta-narratives of men who, in their faults and frailties, make possible, gestures of courage and humanity.
So the next time you hipster “whole fooders” out there drop $10 on a pint of organic strawberries or grapes—remember the people who grow them, often under shameful conditions. Also remember César Chávez, an Everyman who heroically led thousands of exploited, poor, Latino, black and white migrant workers, in organizing strikes and boycotts against the machinations of the industrial, farming behemoth.
Stay green, stay square! Pamela
For more information on Chávez, Huerta and the UFW: http://www.ufw.org/_page.php?menu=research&inc=history/07.html http://doloreshuerta.org/dolores-huerta/
Watch Chávez Movie Trailer