Cesar Chavez (2014)

 

 

 

 

 

Director:      Diego Luna.

Starring:     Kerry Adra (American Lady), Maynor Alvarado (Chato Chavez), Yancey Arias (Gilbert Padilla), Wes Bentley (Jerry Cohen), Sara Banerjee (Concerned Mother #1), Jacob Vargas (Richard Chavez), Liv Boughn (Concerned Mother #2), Marion Basco (Larry Itliong), Lisa Brenner (Jackie Stringer), Duncan Bridgeman (Anchor), Aldo Ceceña (Chucho), Michael Cudlitz (Sherriff Smith), Roger Cudney (Grower), Rosario Dawson (Dolores Huerta), America Ferrera (Helen Chavez), Rodolfo Figueroa (Mexican Farmer), Sarah Finigan (UK Union Lady), Joe Gandurski (Senator Murphy), Noé Hernández (Juan de la Cruz), Jack Holmes (Sen. Kennedy), Andre Linnartz (Deputy), John Malkovich (Bogdanovich Senior), Gabriel Mann (Bogdanovich Junior), Lorena McGregor (Sylvia Chavez), Jamie Michie (UK Union Leader), Mark Moses (Fred Ross), John Ortiz (Eli Ordonez), Michael Peña (Cesar Chavez), Ron Perkins (Grower Jack), Julian Sands (Victore Representative), Mayra Serbulo (Maria), Roberto Sosa (Librado Chavez), Mariano Sosa (Priest #1), Héctor Suárez Gomiz (Incredulous Farm Worker), Eli Vargas (Fernando Chavez), Claudia de Vasco (Petra), Dennis Ford (Foreman).

biography of the Hispanic civil-rights activist and labor organizer of seasonal workers

 

Spoiler Warning:

A young Cesar Chavez tells about his experiences with the farm workers.  He was born in Yuma, Arizona, USA on a ranch owned by his family.  They lost the ranch during the depression of 1929.  So they moved to California to work in the fields.  In one day they went from being farm owners to being farm workers. He started working in the fields at the age of 11.  In 1936 the country changed.  The National Labor Relations Act went into effect.  The act gave most workers the right to join a union, but the farm workers were excluded from the act.  He wanted to do something about this injustice, so he joined the CSO (Community Services Organization).  It was there that he learned how to organize people.  In 1962 he went back to the fields to organize the farm workers. 

Delano, central California.  1962.  Cesar goes into the onion fields where the pickers are working.  He shouts out for Juan de la Cruz, saying he is a friend of Juan's cousin, Felipe.  Cesar guesses which man is Juan, and asks if they can talk?  Juan says sure, but not here.  He will be done in another four hours.  The managers now drive over and catch up with Cesar and keep asking if they can do anything for Cesar?  Cesar doesn't say a word.  He just keeps on walking. 

Later Cesar talks with Juan and asks him if Juan owns anything?  Juan scoffs and says no.  Can Juan read or write?  No.  Everybody in his family old enough works in the fields.  And, yes, Juan would like to see his children improve their own lives, but every person around here here is afraid.  Other families are listening to the discussion between Juan and Cesar.  Cesar says he will return in one month to start organizing the workers.  In the meantime, he wants someone to gather everyone they can get here. 

Cesar reports into his boss Fred and he says that he has to get out of Los Angeles and into the fields where he started.  He tells Fred that he's not tired and he wants to get his hands dirty. 

One month later.  Helen Chavez speaks to her own children about moving to Delano.  They will make new friend there.  She then takes a vote.  Who wants to go to Delano?  Not one child raises her or his hand. 

They move into a house in Delano.  Cesar wanted three bedrooms, but his relatives could only find houses with two bedrooms.  They are soon working in the fields. 

A colleague of Cesar is named Gilbert.  Gilbert says to Cesar that the workers are just scared.  Cesar just says then they will need twice as many house meetings than they did in Selma.  Cesar complains about his back aching him. 

Helen hasn't seen Cesar for 18 days.  He finally shows up.  Another colleague of Cesar is Dolores Huerta.  She also will be working with Cesar.

Cesar's son Fernanddo says the kids in Delano are idiots.  A bunch of kids came up on Chato and him calling them beaners.  Cesar says he's been called worse:  greaser, wetback, spic, brown nigger.  He says he heard many of these ethnic slurs when he was in the navy. 

Cesar's crew works very hard to organize the people.  Cesar tells the workers that if they don't get organized, the bosses will treat them like . . .  He is cut of by an older man who asks Cesar who is he?  Cesar Chavez is the answer. 

The crew start lending money to the workers to tied them over in rough times.  The amount of money lent is usually in small amounts.

Some white women in Delano say they are frightened because every night about 57 farm workers meet together.  They complain to the police and the sheriff goes out to see Mr. Chavez.  The sheriff wants to know from Chavez how many communists are associated with his organization?  Chavez translates the question into Spanish for the workers and they all laugh.  The sheriff wants to know what Chavez has here.  Cesar says it's a credit union with the money coming from donations.  The sheriff now says the good people of Delano don't care much for subversives.  They obey the law.  Cesar says:  "So do we." 

Felipino Work Camp, Delano, California, September 8, 1965.  The foreman on the bullhorn says that the workers have 10 minutes to vacate the premises.  They are now trespassing and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  A worker named Larry shouts out that his people are not moving.  So the workers will be forcibly removed from the camp.

Gilbert explains to the group that the growers have cut the Filipino pay in half.  So the people have barricaded themselves in the camps.  "This thing is blowing up."  And now the growers are recruiting Hispanics to be strike breakers.  That's why Larry specifically asked for Cesar. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Delano, California, September 16, 1965.  Cesar tells a packed crowd that the Filipinos want the Hispanics to join with them in their strike against the bosses, who control the police and the judges.  Cesar says:  "If we show the world their abuse, greed and brutality, then our voice will be heard and responded to.  And when they see that our actions are just, they will understand that our cause is just.  Then we will prevail.  Yes, we can!"  The Hispanics will support the strike. 

At night Gilbert and Cesar talk with Larry.  Cesar tells Larry that as leaders they all have to control their people, so that violence is not used. 

The name of Cesar Chavez starts becoming well known. He leads a boycott of some stores and gets hit in the mid-section by some well-armed employees of a business.  And since the bosses own the police, the police are friendly to the business people and hostile to the farm workers.  When the media starts arriving, the armed men are taken away by the boss man in his pick-up truck. 

A female farm worker tells a reporter that she gets paid $2 dollars per day for her work. 

The court bans all mass picketing.  And there is a ban on saying the word "huelga" (strike) anywhere near the fields.  The Chavez group is going to disobey the bans.  They will force the police to arrest them.  Helen Chavez says she will be one of those who will get arrested, but Cesar tells her no.  Helen still plans to get arrested. 

The next morning Helen shouts out "huelga" repeatedly and gets herself arrested.  She is replaced by a guy who shouts out the forbidden word.  He is arrested. 

The man who was ready to use violence against the striking farm workers, now tells his men to go get some Mexicans from Mexico who really want to work  He says that they are going to break this strike. 

Helen says going to jail was great, because she met so many interesting people in there.  Cesar still doesn't like the idea. 

A lawyer named Jerry Cohen comes to speak with Cesar.  Jerry says that Cesar has to stop the legal injunctions.  Cesar almost immediately says that Jerry is hired and will be the leader of the United Farm Workers' legal team.  He says Jerry will receive $5 per week for pay just like every other staff member. 

At a strike one employer sprays pesticides on the strikers. 

Things get hard for the organizers because the workers know the growers have broken the strike by hiring the illegal workers.  And they know about the sweetheart deal with the teamsters.  Dolores says it's time they use the boycott.  They will boycott Victtore Wines. 

The Senate Sub-committee on Migrant Labor will conduct hearings in the Delano High School.  It is headed by New Jersey's Harrison Williams.  Also here is California's George Murphy and New York's Robert Kennedy.   Kennedy gives the local sheriff and the attorney general a good verbal beat-down for their illegal methods used against the striking workers.

Fernando Chavez is still having trouble with the kids at school.  Helen wants Cesar to talk some more with Fernando. 

Cesar leads what he calls a pilgrimage to Sacramento.  But the sheriff insists that Cesar needs a permit for what he sees as a march of some 300 miles.  So Cesar tells his people to use the public sidewalks.  Their march goes on. 

The march gets a lot of publicity and a lot of influential people come out to support the cause of the underpaid farm workers.  Victorre Wines are hurting because of the boycott.  Businessman Mr. Bogdanovich Senior tells the owner of Victtore Wines to stay strong against the boycott.  The owner of the wines suggests that Bogdanovich start paying his firm for their loses. 

Cesar and his 67 marchers reach Sacramento.  Waiting there are some 10,000 supporters of the farm workers.  The boss from Vittore Wines calls Cesar about the possibility of negotiations of a settlement.

Fernando Chavez decides to go live with his paternal grandparents.  Cesar asks him to reconsider, but Fernando is determined to leave. 

Bogdanovich Senior gets word that Cesar Chavez is going to target them next.  Bogdanovich Junior goes to speak with the sheriff, who says the only thing he can do for the family is to turn a blind eye, because he has too much political heat on him. 

Some of the farm workers get tired of the fight and they want to strike back at the employers.  Some of them take vengeance on employers' staff people when they do something wrong.  Chavez has to demand that the strikers not use violence like employers and the police do.  Cesar now tells the people at a meeting that three days ago he stopped eating.  He will not eat anything anymore until everyone signs a commitment statement that they will not use violence in their cause.  He says they will move together or not at all.  He walks out of the meeting. 

Helen is driven to where her husband is walking on the railway tracks.  She is let out of the car and joins her husband in his walking. 

8th day of the fast.  Cesar feels like he has lost his way, but he will see this through. 

40 Acres Union Office, Delano, California.  15th day of fast.  Ronald Reagan is completely against the farm workers and speaks out against them. 

21st day of fast.  Fernando is back home visiting.  He tries to comfort his mother who cries with worry over her husband. 

Robert Kennedy comes to Delano. 

March 10, 1968.  25th day of fast.  Chavez comes out with Kennedy.  He takes a small piece of food from the priest. 

Chavez now launches a nation wide boycott of grapes.  Estimated damage is $17 million dollars to date.  Reagan says the grape boycott is immoral.  Time Magazine names Chavez as the man of the year. 

There is talk about the growers getting together and settling this strike.  Bogdanovich Senior is very opposed to sitting down with "these characters".  The Hispanic maids are disgusted by the ethnic slurs, such as "dirty foreigners" and "children". 

Cesar talks with Fernando, who still has a chip on his shoulder.  Fernando tells Cesar:  "You have this annoying habit of turning everything into a lesson."

While driving, over the radio Chavez learns that Robert Kennedy has been assassinated. 

Richard Nixon becomes the President of the United States. 

The police attack the strikers with their batons, breaking heads.  One striker is shot down in cold blood by a worker for the employers.  Chavez is arrested and goes to jail.  Bogdanovich Senior on the phone tells Nixon how grateful he is for his support for the growers.  Nixon promises to sell their grapes in Europe.  And whatever is left over will be bought by the Department of Defense and fed to the soldiers.

After five days in jail, Chavez is bailed out. And the sales of grapes has gone up 140% percent in Europe. His brother says: "We're not going to survive Nixon."

Chavez goes to London to put a stop to the sale of American grapes in Europe. The British unions support the boycott of grapes. Chavez throws boxes of grapes into the river. Now Bogdanovich Senior is not so happy any more.

The growers now decide to sign.

40 Acres. July 29, 1970. The documents are signed in a public ceremony. The farm workers were on strike for five long years. Chavez declares: "We won!"

Chavez writes a letter to Fernando saying he's sorry for not being able to be a normal dad to him, but he and his mother miss him very much. It's a very touching letter.

"Five years later, Cesar Chavez and the UFW won passage of the first law granting farm workers the right to organize."

 

Inspiring story of the Hispanic leader of farm workers who had to fight against the employer, the police, the courts, the Governor of California Ronald Reagan and the President of the United States Richard Nixon. Talk about your David and Goliath story!  Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez was committed to using non-violent methods in his fight for justice for the farm workers.  He even went on a long fast to force all the farm workers interested in the movement to sign a pledge of non-violence.  He was the right man at the right time with the right strategy.  Like King, Jr., a man to be admired.  The movie follows the long struggle for the right to collective bargaining for the farm workers.  It certainly was a hard struggle.  There were some great actors in the movie:  Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, John Malkovich, among others.  Michael Peña (as Cesar Chavez) was very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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