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Saturday, May 31, 2014

TRUTHOUT: ''Cesar Chavez,'' Conditions in the Fields and the Struggle over Memory

I did not write a critique of the movie Cesar Chavez when it first premiered because I felt somewhat conflicted, and I didn't feel like jumping on a bandwagon. There appears to be a cottage industry of those who love to critique Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) Movement, by people who have little first-hand knowledge of the events in question. From reading the many reviews, most of them seem to be formulaic, critiquing the movie as a hero-worshipping biopic, with deeply flawed acting, etc., etc.

Much of that critique comes from professional movie critics who know movies but who know little about Cesar Chavez and the UFW movement and know even less about the condition of farmworkers in this nation's fields. Some of the critique is along the same lines as that of his former enemies, many of whom are from the extreme far right and who always equated him or saw him as an enemy of capitalism and an enemy of the state. Some criticism is from the so-called far left, some of which is simply hypercritical, not necessarily wrong, but seemingly unaware of Chavez's larger role or value to society. Among these critiques, there is also valid and useful critique that comes from people with no ax to grind, primarily from human rights activists who lived that era or who are engaged in human rights struggles today.

What has been particularly troubling is that those who talk or write about the Chavez movie, almost never mention the conditions of farm workers today. It is within that context that I see/saw the movie. A 2007 book: The Farmworker's Journey, by Dr. Ann Lopez, gives us a glance not simply into the conditions in the fields, but examines the deplorable conditions that force migrants from their homelands to migrate to the fields in the United States. NAFTA, a trade agreement that permits goods, capital and executives to flow freely back and forth, but not workers, continues to be the cause of that migration.

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