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History is Made One Step at a Time: Cesar Chavez in Cinema

On March 28th, the much awaited Cesar Chavez biopic debuted in theaters nationwide. This is a hugely important film regardless of your personal relationship to the historical events described in the film. The film describes the life of Cesar Chavez, the face of the Chicano (Mexican-American) Movement, and other prominent figures within the Chicano Movement such as Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong and their efforts in establishing the United Farm Workers Union.  The Chicano Movement grew in fervor in California as a response to the dismal conditions and wages farm workers were exposed to in the grape-growing industry and in the agricultural industry as a whole. These efforts to get better working conditions first began when farm workers were encouraged to leave the field and  join picket line protests. This was a risky move for many farm workers without another source of income. They had to decide between feeding their families or standing up to the intolerable conditions they were exposed to.

 

The film depicting Cesar Chavez and his struggle in legitimizing the United Farm Workers Union describes a movement that is often ignored. This movement for better conditions began in the Central Valley of California and spread to areas all around the country, even the world. It was the catalyst for change within many Chicano communities. This movement is often forgotten since it occurred nearly simultaneously with the African American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. sent letters of support to Cesar Chavez encouraging his work within the Chicano Movement. The creation of this film is a modern introduction and reminder of how truly important the Chicano Movement was, and the lasting impact it has today. For anyone that is contemplating watching it, I highly encourage them to watch it and be reminded or introduced to the history of a people that many students here at Notre Dame can relate to. I also warn viewers of the film to not be swayed by the dramatization of the Chicano movement and the down played role that Filipino farm workers play in the film.

The film minimalized the important role of migrant workers in the success of the Chicano Movement.

Filipino Farm workers were the impetus and strong hold behind the Chicano movement. The Chicano movement had a very strong hold in the San Joaquin Valley especially in cities like Delano and Bakersfield, California. In these cities the Filipino Farm workers were a large reason to why the protests were so successful. Without the whole hearted support of the Filipino Farm workers the protests would have failed since Filipinos would only replace the Chicanos working in the fields. This is in no way meant to diminish Cesar Chavez as a figure of this movement. On the contrary, he is a man that should be admired for his strong convictions toward justice. Despite this one must always remember that having a selective memory of history can be very dangerous. If we don’t remember the large efforts of the Filipino Farm Workers when it comes to establishing the United Farm Workers we are dismissing individuals whose roots also lie so deeply within this history. Larry Itliong was a Filipino Farm worker that was a large force behind the movement also appearing at various contract signings and encouraging the protests to continue. 

I warn viewers of the film to not be swayed by the dramatization of the Chicano movement and the down played role that Dolores Huerta and Filipino farm workers play in the film. The beautiful thing, that we must not forget, about the Chicano movement, headed by Cesar Chavez, was that it was not only a movement aimed at better working conditions for Mexican-Americans, but also a movement that brought together people from very different backgrounds, all working together in solidarity as the human race.  I encourage everyone to go see the Cesar Chavez movie, but even more so watch a documentary regarding the Chicano Movement. If you visit California, I encourage you to visit La Paz which is the final resting place of Cesar Chavez and is also a museum dedicated to his legacy. I encourage people to meet Dolores Huerta who is still alive today, and making various appearances year round in California. I encourage people to learn about the hugely influential role many Filipino farm workers had in the Chicano Movement.

The need for knowledge is what sets us apart. We must always stay hungry for knowledge and remember that things may not always be the way they seem and maintain a healthy dose of skepticism which will lead us to the truth.

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Political Science and Philosophy Major. Freshman at the University of Notre Dame.
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