Latino Studies César Chávez
by
Steven W. Bender
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0032

Introduction

César Chávez (b. 1927–d. 1993) is recognized as an American hero, as evidenced by an official state holiday in California, the first for any Latina/o or labor leader. Reflecting his influence beyond California, several other states have established optional or commemorative holidays honoring his legacy as a labor leader. Though renowned for his role as a cofounder, with Dolores Huerta and Filipino leaders, of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union to secure fair wages and safe working conditions for agricultural workers, Chávez’s legacy also includes his formative years as a political organizer in California for the Community Service Organization. Known for his invocation of religious symbols as an organizing tactic and his advocacy of an ethos of nonviolence in the farm worker movement, Chávez is best remembered for his twenty-five-day hunger fast in 1968 as an act of penance to ensure nonviolence in the increasingly contentious grape strike and national grape boycott sponsored by the UFW and centered in the grape fields of Delano, California. A later, longer fast in 1988 called attention to the dangers to farm workers and their families from the use of pesticides in the fields. Although rooted in the California grape fields, Chávez’s organizing efforts and the UFW union reached well beyond that locale to encompass other crops and states, notably drawing the UFW into a territorial dispute in the 1970s with the Teamsters union in lettuce and grape fields. UFW membership peaked under Chávez’s leadership in the early 1980s but declined significantly in subsequent years, mirroring national trends of union declines, although some critics fault Chávez’s leadership tactics. Chávez’s life is the subject of many scholarly works, particularly emphasizing the 1960s Delano grape strike and the national grape boycott as well as his leadership style and organizing strategies.

General Overviews

Several of the most insightful biographies of Chávez were written mid-career and focus on the Delano grape strike, and they are compiled under the discussion of that struggle. Collected here are key works published after his death that span Chávez’s career as a political/community organizer and later as an iconic farm labor organizer, as well as the formation, rise, and decline of the United Farm Workers union that he cofounded. Ferriss and Sandoval 1997 is the most highly regarded of these biographies, accompanying a widely screened documentary on his life struggles and successes. Some of these works, notably Bruns 2011, Etulain 2002, and Griswold del Castillo and Garcia 1995, contain annotated bibliographies. Etulain 2002, Ferriss and Sandoval 1997, and Houle 2003 include essays from participants in the farm labor struggle and other authors. Griswold del Castillo and Garcia 1995 and la Botz 2006 situate Chávez within the larger urban Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s for political, economic, and social justice. Pawel 2014 is the latest and perhaps most comprehensive biography of Chávez, coinciding with the release of the motion picture Cesar Chavez (2014), directed by Diego Luna.

  • Bruns, Roger. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011.

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    Part of a series on landmark developments in American multicultural heritage, this short biography has the advantage of spanning Chávez’s entire career to evaluate, however succinctly, his legacy as an organizer. Contains numerous references to relevant works and an annotated bibliography.

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  • Etulain, Richard W., ed. César Chávez: A Brief Biography with Documents. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

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    Part of the Bedford Series in History and Culture, this biography, true to its title, is brief but comprehensive. More valuable for researchers are the annotated bibliography and the inclusion of several essays on Chávez’s organizing legacy written by such participants in the labor movement as Fred Ross (founder of the Community Service Organization) and Dolores Huerta, as well as by Chávez and his wife, Helen.

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  • Ferriss, Susan, and Ricardo Sandoval. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997.

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    Accompanying the documentary film The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle (1997) that aired extensively on PBS, this is probably the standard-bearer biography of Chávez, particularly notable for its inclusion of several guest essays on farm labor issues (such as the oppressive short-handled hoe) and historical events.

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  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard, and Richard A. Garcia. César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

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    Biography of Chávez notable for imbedding within the chronology of events the litany of values to which Chávez subscribed, as well as situating Chávez within the larger struggle for Mexican American justice and the Chicano Movement. Includes a chapter on the complex relationship between the union and Mexican immigrant workers, as well as a bibliographical essay of aid to scholars.

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  • Houle, Michelle E., ed. Cesar Chavez. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2003.

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    Contains an introductory essay supplying an overview of Chávez’s life, as well as essays and excerpts on his life work from various authors, many from other published works. Notable for inclusion of magazine pieces and a law review article, and for its inclusion of several speeches and writings by Chávez.

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  • la Botz, Dan. César Chávez and la Causa. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006.

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    Short but comprehensive biography that covers the life span of Chávez as a laborer and organizer and includes discussion of the Chicano Movement as well as extensive study and discussion questions for classroom use.

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  • Pawel, Miriam. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

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    This extensive biography spanning Chávez’s life is ultimately and necessarily more compassionate and sympathetic than her prior works (such as Pawel 2009 under Critiques) focusing mostly on the UFW’s decline. Pawel’s biography is among the most comprehensive, spanning Chávez’s early days with the CSO to his last crusade against pesticides, emphasizing both his multi-faceted strategies of organizing and empowering farm workers, and his shortcomings, particularly pronounced in her extensive treatment of his later years, which focuses more on dissecting his leadership failings than detailing the goals and achievements of the UFW during that time.

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Bibliographies

Fodell 1974 is the only published bibliography on Chávez. A couple of more recent biographical works, Bruns 2011 and Etulain 2002 (both cited under General Overviews), also supply annotated bibliographies citing and discussing extensive sources.

  • Fodell, Beverly. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers: A Selective Bibliography. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1974.

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    Dated but useful annotated bibliography prepared by Wayne State University library archivist addressing federal and state government documents and books on Chávez, and supplying an extensive listing of articles by author rather than by subject listing.

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Writings and Speeches

In his role as a farm labor organizer and leader, Chávez delivered numerous speeches to the union membership as well as to sympathizers and potential donors, and he spoke in connection with the many political campaigns and legislative initiatives that he supported. In the political arena, Chávez communicated by letter and telegram with numerous politicians and government officials. Chávez also testified to legislators on a variety of farm labor issues. The Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University’s College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs, in Detroit, Michigan, contains a written record of most of these written communications (compiled and abstracted online; see UFW Collection, cited under Archives, Records, and Other Source Collections). For more casual researchers, Jensen and Hammerback 2002 and Stavans 2008 have compiled the most significant of these writings, with Stavans supplying helpful contextual information for each communication. Some published works relatedly study the structure of Chávez’s writings from a rhetorical perspective. Hammerback and Jensen 1998 undertakes this rhetorical study by looking generally at Chávez’s speeches, while Yinger 1975 concentrates exclusively on Chávez’s most celebrated speech at the conclusion of his 1968 hunger strike. Levy 1975 and the Oral History Interview, although undertaken early in his activist career, detail Chávez’s life and early organizing successes in his own words.

  • Hammerback, John C., and Richard J. Jensen. The Rhetorical Career of César Chávez. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.

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    Tells the story of Chávez’s career through an examination of his speeches and writings from a rhetorical perspective, focusing on tactics, techniques, and manner. Also encompasses Chávez’s nonverbal communications such as picketing, marches, and fasts.

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  • Jensen, Richard J., and John C. Hammerback, eds. The Words of César Chávez. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002.

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    Compiled mostly chronologically are various influential speeches, letters, and legislative testimony of Chávez, much drawn from transcripts in the United Farm Workers collection at Wayne State University library. Includes several speeches from the 1980s and 1990s as well as the iconic writings of the 1960s and 1970s.

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  • Levy, Jacques E. Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975.

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    Compiled by a journalist starting in 1969, this work contains extensive first-person recollections and accounts of Chávez, as well as those of family members, Dolores Huerta, and other union organizers, covering events spanning Chávez’s early life through the Delano grape boycott and territorial struggles with the Teamsters union in the lettuce and grape fields.

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  • Oral History Interview, 28 January 1970. Walter P. Reuther Library, College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs, Wayne State University.

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    Available at this library in Detroit, Michigan, the transcript of this extensive interview with Chávez can be read in the Archives Reading Room.

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  • Stavans, Ilan. Cesar Chavez: An Organizer’s Tale: Speeches. New York: Penguin, 2008.

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    Compiles dozens of speeches, magazine articles, and writings of Chávez, each with a brief note on date and context.

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  • Yinger, Winthrop. Cesar Chavez: The Rhetoric of Nonviolence. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1975.

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    Contains a line-by-line rhetorical analysis of Chávez’s most famous speech, delivered by Reverend James Drake given Chávez’s frail condition, at the conclusion of Chávez’s 1968 hunger strike.

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Archives, Records, and other Source Collections

Any serious researcher should visit the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, for access to the extensive United Farm Workers (UFW) union collection, and the National Chavez Center located in Keene, California, where Chávez spent his final years. Stavans 2010 compiles several photographs from the Reuther collection and the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.

Documentaries

The subject of several quality documentaries, Chávez’s life is best represented in the videos The Fight in the Fields from 1997 and Common Man, Uncommon Vision from 1995.

  • Dunnells, Dana, prod. Common Man, Uncommon Vision: The Cesar Chavez Story, 1995. DVD. Arlington, VA: ZGS Communications, 2007.

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    Forty-seven-minute video narrated by actor Martin Sheen focuses on the 1960s grape strike and 1970s dispute with the Teamsters, and features interviews with Luis Valdez, Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Dolores Huerta, and Chávez’s family.

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  • Telles, Ray, and Rick Tejada-Flores. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle, 1997. DVD. New York: Cinema Guild, 2007.

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    Accompanying the book of the same title and aired extensively on PBS, this standard-bearer video biography situates Chávez at the center of the farm workers’ social justice struggle. Includes interviews with Ethel Kennedy and the Chávez family.

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Collections

Surprisingly few collections have been compiled on Chávez’s life, with Stavans 2010 as the most illuminating despite its brevity. Eulogies on Chávez (see Eulogies) and collections of Chávez’s own writings (see Writings and Speeches) also include compilations of essays on Chávez’s legacy. Stavans 2010 goes beyond a collection of remembrances, although most of the essays and excerpts that he includes were written after Chávez’s death.

  • Stavans, Illan, ed. Cesar Chavez. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.

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    Collection of twelve essays and excerpts, a few drawn from previously published biographies of Chávez and others from previously published articles. Most notable for inclusion of essays on the relationship of Chávez and the Chicano Movement, his leadership style, and the decline of the United Farm Workers union.

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Critiques

Both during the heyday of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union and following its decline in membership, numerous critics have written accounts critical of Chávez and the UFW union. Texts published during the early 1970s (de Toledano 1971, Huck 1974, Steinbacher 1970) tend to focus on the supposed Communist leanings of Chávez. Such allegations prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance, the files of which are now available on the Internet (see The Vault: Cesar Chavez). More recent writings, such as García 2012, Bardacke 2011, Neuburger 2013, and Pawel 2009, supply more critical and, in the case of Pawel, journalistic focus on the leadership deficiencies of Chávez and the troubled internal politics of the UFW. United Farm Workers 2006 is a lengthy response by the union to Pawel’s criticisms. Despite Pawel’s apparent aim to reevaluate Chávez’s legacy by detailing his shortcomings as a union leader, particularly his use of a controversial encounter group exercise called “the Game,” her account is ultimately less about Chávez and more about some of his lesser-known supporting cast, particularly the union’s disgruntled lawyers. It thus supplies considerable insight into the farm labor union legal team and legal battles, but little else. Pawel’s forthcoming biography of Chávez will no doubt supply more of a critical focus on Chávez.

  • Bardacke, Frank. Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. London: Verso, 2011.

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    Written by a former farm laborer, this sprawling account of the rise and fall of the UFW union posits that the boycott soul of the UFW trampled the farm worker soul. Deeply critical of Chávez’s leadership style and personality deficiencies, the book particularly excoriates Chávez and the UFW for their alleged campaign against undocumented field workers.

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  • de Toledano, Ralph. Little Cesar. Washington, DC: Anthem, 1971.

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    A decidedly vicious portrayal of César Chávez’s efforts to unionize farm workers, written by a journalist. Accuses Chávez of injuring the lives of farm workers and growers through forced unionization, and even damaging the epicenter of the worker struggle, the community of Delano, California.

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  • García, Matthew. From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

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    Written by a Latino historian, this self-described “critical reassessment” of César Chávez’s leadership legacy focuses on the UFW’s decline after the Delano grape strike. Positing that Chávez’s isolation, inner circle management style, and disengaged union strategies compromised the union and defined its political and broader failures to attain its potential, Garcia paints Chávez as an infallible leader who refused counsel from the cadre of union volunteers and advisors. Steeped in historical research, including recorded UFW executive board meetings in the 1970s that supply juicy insights, the book attempts to deconstruct the image of Chávez as a labor hero and detail his management flaws in a decidedly critical account.

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  • Huck, Susan L. M. “Little Cesar and His Phony Strike.” Review of the News, 21 August 1974.

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    Published in a conservative news magazine, this decidedly biased and critical commentary paints Chávez as a Communist and his union organizers and workers as violent “goons” who threatened the nation’s food supply.

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  • Neuburger, Bruce. Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013.

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    Written by a former field worker who labored in California’s Salinas and Imperial Valley vegetable fields in the 1970s, this part narrative, part historical account decrying the oppressive treatment of farm workers is critical of the UFW and César Chávez. Coinciding with the conflict between the UFW and the Teamsters union over organizing lettuce workers, Neuburger’s on the ground perspective is critical of both unions, attributing the downturn of the UFW to political compromise and its embrace of the Democratic Party.

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  • Pawel, Miriam. The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

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    Written by a Los Angeles Times reporter who wrote a four-part series in 2006 critical of the current projects and direction of the UFW after Chávez’s death as more of a social movement than a labor union benefiting field workers. Here, Pawel focuses on the UFW during Chávez’s life, spanning the Delano grape strike, the territorial conflict with the Teamsters, and later struggles.

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  • Steinbacher, John. Bitter Harvest. Whittier, CA: Orange Tree, 1970.

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    Decidedly biased and sensationalized account of “pool hustler” Chávez’s supposed aggressive and coercive labor tactics as an outsider, a Communist, and an agitator/“invader” who allegedly destroyed the economy of Delano, California.

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  • United Farm Workers. Response of the United Farm Workers and Related Farm Worker Movement Organizations to the January 8–11, 2006 Los Angeles Times Series on Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers, and the Farm Worker Movement. Keene, CA: United Farm Workers, 2006.

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    White paper available on the UFW website consists of 103-page UFW response to allegations of corruption and absence of direction made in the Los Angeles Times newspaper series written by Miriam Pawel, who later wrote the full-length critical work Pawel 2009.

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  • The Vault: Cesar Chavez.

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    Federal website containing the extensive FBI surveillance files on Chávez, especially with regard to suspicions of Communist infiltration in the farm workers union.

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Eulogies

After Chávez’s death in 1993, Carrasco and Jiménez 1994 and McGregor 2000 published collections of remembrances that are most notable for their inclusion of civil rights activists, politicians, and entertainers, evidencing the reach of Chávez’s work.

  • Carrasco, José A., and Randall C. Jiménez, eds. “In Memory of César Chávez 1927–1993.” San José Studies 20.2 (Spring 1994).

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    Collection of thirteen remembrances, including an essay by Chicano Movement leader José Angel Gutiérrez situating Chávez within that movement.

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  • McGregor, Ann, compiler. Remembering Cesar: The Legacy of Cesar Chavez. Clovis, CA: Quill Driver, 2000.

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    Published after Chávez’s death, a collection of short remembrances by those who worked with or knew Chávez, including such notables as actors Edward James Olmos and Martin Sheen, politician Jerry Brown, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King.

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Community Service Organization Organizer

Most Chávez biographies devote attention to his early years (1952–1962) as an organizer and eventually the national director of the Community Service Organization (CSO), an antipoverty group that sought to politically mobilize poor neighborhoods, particularly those of Mexican Americans, typically through voter registration. Chávez worked for the CSO throughout California in San Jose, Oakland, the San Joaquin Valley, Oxnard, and East Los Angeles. Ross 1989 addresses Chávez’s work for the CSO in Oxnard on the California coast.

  • Ross, Fred. Conquering Goliath: Cesar Chavez at the Beginning. Keene, CA: El Taller Grafico, 1989.

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    Written by the founder of the CSO, this book chronicles in narrative style the early work of Chávez as a CSO organizer in the 1950s, which took him to Oxnard, where he organized workers to improve farm labor conditions and employability—a preview of his later work.

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Delano Grape Strike

Begun by Filipino union members in 1965 and joined by the National Farm Workers Association founded by Chávez and Dolores Huerta, the grape strike against growers in Delano, California, sought higher wages for grape pickers. This combined union strike, known as the Great Delano Grape Strike, evolved into a protracted labor battle that prompted a national grape boycott, Chávez’s famous fast for nonviolence, and the eventual merger of the two unions into the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. The strike and accompanying boycott persisted until all of the Delano grape growers signed union contracts in the summer of 1970. Some accounts of the Delano grape strike were published before its conclusion—Dunne 2008 and Matthiessen 2000—yet supply crucial detail of the labor organizing tactics. Pitrone 1971 coincides with the strike’s end, and Taylor 1975 also addresses the 1970s struggle that emerged between the Teamsters and UFW unions in organizing lettuce and grape field workers. Encompassing the later days of the Delano grape strike, the elegant inside account by Matthiessen 2000 of Chávez and his tactics is a must for researchers interested in that time period. Day 1971 approaches the Delano strike from a religious perspective.

  • Day, Mark. Forty Acres: Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers. New York: Praeger, 1971.

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    Written by Father Day, a Franciscan priest assigned to minister to Spanish-speaking farm workers in Central California, who led the religious service ending Chávez’s 1968 fast, this insider account of the Delano grape strike admits the author’s favorable bias toward the farm workers. Supplies some insights into the role of the Church in the conflict.

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  • Dunne, John Gregory. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

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    First published in 1967 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, novelist and screenwriter Dunne wrote this mostly first-person account of the early months of the Delano grape strike based on his interviews with Chávez, the growers, and Delano residents. Dunne digs deep within this narrow scope and supplies much valuable background on this epic dispute. The 2008 edition features a foreword by Ilan Stavans analyzing Dunne’s background and perspective.

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  • Matthiessen, Peter. Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    First published in 1969, the 2000 edition features a postscript by the author and an extensive foreword by Ilan Stavans. Written by an award-winning writer who spent three years with Chávez, coinciding with the publication in the New Yorker of his profile on Chávez, this extensively detailed account focuses on the year 1968.

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  • Pitrone, Jean Maddern. Chavez: Man of the Migrants. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1971.

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    Sympathetic and simple biography of Chávez focusing on his early formative years and the Delano grape strike in the late 1960s.

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  • Taylor, Ronald B. Chavez and the Farm Workers. Boston: Beacon, 1975.

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    Supplying background on the history of farm labor struggles and sympathetic to the farm worker plight, journalist Taylor details the Delano grape and the Teamsters union struggles while addressing Chávez and the formative years of the UFW union.

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Farm Labor Unionization and Legal Struggles

Farm workers in the United States have long sought fair wages and safe working conditions in struggles that both predated and continued beyond Chávez’s time with the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. The materials below supply insight into the plight of the US farm worker, with special emphasis on the UFW during Chávez’s tenure. Alvarez 1973, London and Anderson 1970, and Mooney and Majka 1995 address the UFW, with London and Anderson 1970 and Mooney and Majka 1995 situating the UFW within the larger history of unionism in US agricultural labor. Legal battles of unions have encompassed a variety of issues, including pesticides, libel suits, and anti-union laws, as described in Alvarez 1973 and as confronted in the representative court decisions involving the UFW of Bruce Church, Inc. v. United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO and United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, v. Superior Court of Monterey County.

  • Alvarez, Salvador Enrique. The Legal and Legislative Struggle of the Farmworkers 1965–1972. Berkeley, CA: Quinto Sol, 1973.

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    Presented in chronological and sometimes sparse format, Alvarez details the legal and legislative efforts of the UFW organization in this critical time period of 1965–1972, covering a broad range of subjects from wages to pesticides to libel suits.

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  • Bruce Church, Inc. v. United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO. 169 Ariz. 22, 816P.2d 919 (Ct. App. 1991).

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    Arizona Court of Appeals decision involving a major lettuce producer in which the UFW and Chávez prevailed in obtaining a ruling that a restrictive anti-union law in Arizona, governing secondary product boycotts, did not apply to UFW lettuce boycott activities in California.

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  • London, Joan, and Henry Anderson. So Shall Ye Reap. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970.

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    Two chapters discuss the Chávez-led grape boycott in the late 1960s, but the book is most notable for its discussion of the history of agricultural labor and unionization in California and especially the history of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee with whom Chávez eventually joined forces to create the UFW union.

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  • Mooney, Patrick H., and Theo J. Majka. Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Movements: Social Protest in American Agriculture. New York: Twayne, 1995.

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    Embedded in social movement theory, this work on the history of activism in US agriculture devotes two substantial chapters to the UFW union, both its rise in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with the 1975 union-friendly California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, and then its decline, measured in terms of farmer contracts and worker membership.

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  • United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO v. Superior Court of Monterey County. 4 Cal. 3d 556, 483P.2d 1215, 94 Cal. Rptr. 263 (1971).

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    The California Supreme Court decided that an injunction that effectively prohibited the UFW from informing the public of its labor dispute with a Salinas Valley grower was overly broad and unlawful under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

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Spirituality and Nonviolence Credo

César Chávez invoked his Catholicism and spiritual symbolism in organizing farm laborers. Relatedly, he drew inspiration from Gandhi in deploring violence as a tool of social justice. His epic fast in Delano, California, in 1968 was intended to prompt his union members to disavow violence in their increasingly contentious grape strike. Dalton 2003, Day 1971, García 2007, Prouty 2006, and Watt 2010 examine the relationship between Chávez and Catholic spirituality, particularly the role of spirituality in organizing farm workers. Orosco 2008, Dalton 2003, and García 2007 explore Chávez’s moral commitment to nonviolence, with Orosco, a philosophy professor, supplying the most insight into Chávez’s legacy of nonviolence.

  • Dalton, Frederick John. The Moral Vision of César Chávez. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003.

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    Written by a professor of moral theology, this book examines the role of religion and religious faith in the farm worker movement, as well as Chávez’s struggle against assaults on human dignity and his commitment to nonviolence.

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  • Day, Mark. Forty Acres: Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers. New York: Praeger, 1971.

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    Written by Father Day, a Franciscan priest assigned to minister to Spanish-speaking farm workers in Central California, who led the religious service ending Chávez’s 1968 fast. This insider account of the Delano grape strike admits the author’s favorable bias toward the farm workers with insights into the church’s role in the conflict.

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  • García, Mario T., ed. The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith in Action. Lanham, MD: Sheed & Ward, 2007.

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    Posits César Chávez as a spiritual figure and in a lengthy introduction discusses his spiritual development and how spirituality influenced his organizing strategies. Relies almost entirely on quotes from Chávez to depict the contours of his spirituality, including tenets of nonviolence, aiding the poor, and appreciation of human dignity.

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  • Orosco, José-Antonio. Cesar Chavez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008.

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    Examines Chávez’s philosophy of nonviolence, including its limits and its role in social movements. Contrasts the views of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

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  • Prouty, Marco G. César Chávez, the Catholic Bishops, and the Farmworkers’ Struggle for Social Justice. Tucson: University of Arizona, 2006.

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    Discusses the relationship between Chávez and the Catholic Church hierarchy, emphasizing the Delano grape strike in the late 1960s and the 1970s Teamsters union conflict, during which the church evolved from a passive to a supportive role that briefly emboldened la causa. Discusses conflict of interest, given that the farm workers’ ranks filled the church and the farm owners supplied critical financial support.

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  • Watt, Alan J. Farm Workers and the Churches: The Movement in California and Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010.

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    Supplies historical background on the intersection of farm labor and organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, in both Texas and California. Emphasizes the role of the Catholic Church and the tension within the church, which ultimately, through the US Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor, helped facilitate the end of the Delano grape strike led by Chávez in the late 1960s and 1970.

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Social Justice Struggles

Although most published scholarly works on Chávez’s life focus on his work in organizing farm workers, Chávez, as is still the case for his union cofounder Dolores Huerta, was active in several causes beyond the fields. Shaw 2008 represents the most thorough publication to connect the Chávez legacy to the larger, modern movement of social justice. Written by a lawyer and social justice activist, Shaw 2008 focuses on the influence of Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union on current and recent labor and social justice struggles and movements.

  • Shaw, Randy. Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

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    Emphasizes the role of UFW alumni and strategies on such diverse social movements as those for immigrant rights, environmental justice (as influenced by the UFW campaign against pesticides), and Latina/o political power. Also details the subsequent use by others of traditional UFW strategies such as boycotts and alliances with clergy.

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Politics

As a longtime advocate and organizer for the Democratic Party, Chávez’s friendship in the 1960s with Senator Robert Kennedy best exemplified Chávez’s skills as a political organizer and advocate for voting rights. Bender 2008 situates Chávez within the political movements and issues of his time.

  • Bender, Steven W. One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, César Chávez, and the Dream of Dignity. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008.

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    Chronicles the friendship of Kennedy and Chávez as a vehicle to address the political involvement and influence of Chávez and the relevance of his efforts and aims to the current state of Latina/o politics. Covers a variety of issues, including undocumented immigration and the inadequacies of farm labor laws, that still evoke political controversy.

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US Immigration Policy

As is still the case in the early 21st century, undocumented immigration was a complicated, controversial, and nettlesome issue during the heyday of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union’s organizing efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, border enforcement was less intense and undocumented workers offered a ready supply of strikebreakers to replace the striking union workers in the fields. As Bender 2008 discusses, Chávez faced criticism for the union’s efforts to keep undocumented workers from undermining the labor union strikes. As Griswold del Castillo and Garcia 1995 notes, many of the UFW members had ties to Mexico, making the union’s position problematic. Still, the position of the UFW and Chávez on undocumented workers evolved over time to shift blame away from the workers, to employers and government policies that marginalized these workers, as reflected in Bender 2008 and Gutiérrez 1995. Bardacke 2011 is the most critical of the accounts of Chávez’s attitudes and policies toward undocumented workers, whereas Shaw 2008 sympathetically looks at the influence of Chávez on the current immigrant rights movement.

  • Bardacke, Frank. Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. London: Verso, 2011.

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    A sprawling account written by a former farm laborer of the rise and fall of the UFW union; posits that the boycott soul of the UFW trampled the farm worker soul. Deeply critical of Chávez’s leadership style and personality deficiencies, the book particularly excoriates Chávez and the UFW for their alleged campaign against undocumented field workers.

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  • Bender, Steven W. One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, César Chávez, and the Dream of Dignity. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008.

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    Chronicling the friendship of Kennedy and Chávez as a lens to examine the political involvement and influence of Chávez, this book contains a chapter discussion of the recent history of US immigration policies toward migrant farm laborers. Discusses how the immigration attitudes of Chávez and the UFW evolved to call for amnesty for undocumented workers to bolster their status.

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  • Griswold del Castillo, Richard, and Richard A. Garcia. César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

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    Biography of Chávez that includes a chapter on the complex relationship between the union and Mexican immigrant workers, as well as a bibliographical essay of aid to scholars.

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  • Gutiérrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    This well-respected historical study of US immigration and labor policies as they have impacted Mexicans and Mexican Americans, particularly during the 20th century, includes discussion of the shifting and softening position of the UFW on immigration during the 1970s.

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  • Shaw, Randy. Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

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    Written by a lawyer and social justice activist. Focuses on the influence of Chávez and the UFW on current and recent labor and social justice struggles and movements. Emphasizes the role of UFW alumni and strategies on diverse social movements, including efforts to further the rights of immigrants.

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