Cesar Chavez is portrayed to the American public as a hero and champion of poor Hispanic migrant workers who were paid mere pennies to work in the grape and lettuce fields of California. According to the tale, the farmers got rich off the backs of the migrant labor, selling the lettuce and making expensive wines from the grapes. Meanwhile the poor, misused migrants carried meager belongings on their backs and traveled from farm to farm, hoping to find work, perhaps a meal, and a place to sleep. Even little children were forced to work in the fields — just to keep the family alive. So goes the tale.
Into the breach of this John Steinbeck vision of misery steps one of the workers who braved the wrath of "The Man." Cesar Chavez, so the tale continues, stood bravely against threats of bodily harm, maybe even death, to help bring the poor migrant workers a decent wage and stable working conditions. He organized the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), organized protests, set up picket lines, and staged fasts to get the media’s attention. His minions took on the battle cry “Huelga!” (strike) and called on all Americans to boycott “non-union” lettuce and wines.
In an era of unrest and college protests, students across the nation took up the battle cry and participated in the boycotts. It became fashionable for liberal leaders to stand with Chavez. California Governor Jerry Brown (in his first term) joined Chavez and all the usual Hollywood celebrities in protest marches in Sacramento. Bobby Kennedy flew in to embrace him for the cameras during his fasts.
Chavez was hailed a hero to the oppressed poor. Streets and schools all over the state of California are named after him. Children wear tee-shirts with his name and image emblazoned across the front. And now, Chavez is to be forced again into the nation’s reconstructed memory through a major motion picture about his life that calls him an American hero. Labeling Cesar Chavez an American hero is akin to labeling Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky as Russian heroes.
Here are some facts about Cesar Chavez that you will never read in a school text book, current history book, or see in the film:
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