Source: Consortium News
Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers and the subject of a new movie, was an unlikely leader of a movement that not only unionized one of the most oppressed segments of American labor but galvanized much of the United States behind the justice of their nonviolent cause.
Chavez, who died in 1993 at the age of 66, was a person known for listening to others, not for loud exhortations. And, he infused the movement with a quiet dignity that won support from a broad cross-section of Americans who supported the farm workers with a boycott of grapes that forced growers to recognize the union.
Now, Chavez's struggle is the focus of a new movie, "Cesar Chavez: History Is Made One Step at a Time," which itself represented a struggle for writer-director Diego Luna who has spent the last four years raising the money to make the picture. Luna, who is also an actor (starring in Alfonso Curón's 2001 film Y Tu Mamá También), has had no shortage of roles being offered to him, but he considered the making of "Cesar Chavez" a work of love and commitment.
"It's important we don't forget this is part of American history," he told Dennis J Bernstein in an interview for the Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio. The film opened in theaters on Friday.
DL: I am happy to be to talk about the film. It is a feature film which talks about ten years in the life this man and everyone around the movement. It's about the amazing message they sent in this country in the 1960s, how they created the first union for farm workers in this country, and the grape boycott they did to connect with consumers in America.
DB: I would like to ask you about the multiple struggles to make the film.
DL: At the beginning, everyone was very supportive and the film business was shocked that there was no film about Cesar Chavez. When we tried looking for the financing, that's when we started to find trouble. Not many wanted this film to be made, or to participate as financiers. We went back to Mexico and started raising money there. We got together a good 70 percent of the financing, and then we found the right partners on this side of the border. We had to go the other way around. It was a paradox. We had to go to Mexico to tell the story of an American hero.
DB: This film that you spent four years on, what was at the core for you? Why did you decide to take this on, and what do you want the American people to come away with from this film?
DL: First of all, people need to learn about who Cesar was. You would be surprised at how little is known about the life of Cesar. I've been asking and finding out that many people don't know who he was, what they achieved, what they had to go through. It's important we don't forget this is part of American history. It's important for young people to know that this happened, is part of who they are and is a fantastic inspiring story that can show that change is in your hands.
It's a powerful film for kids to see. But it's also an important one for our community. If you are part of the Latino community, there are not many films that celebrate who we are. There are not many chances to go to the cinema and see a film that is about us. This one is, so it's about that journey. It's one of so many stories about our community that should be celebrated. It is about sending the message to everyone in Hollywood that our stories have to get to the screen.
DB: What did you learn from this film? What were you surprised about that you didn't know before?
DL: I knew they achieved something, but I didn't know the whole strategy behind it. I didn't know how ahead of their time they were. They organized that boycott with a non-violent movement, and sent a message to this country that a change was happening if we got involved. They went out and connected with consumers. They made a movement viral before viral was even in their heads. They connected with people in the whole country who thought they had nothing in common with farm workers, and then realized they had a lot in common.
Parents talked to other parents, mothers talked to mothers, saying when you buy a grape, you are supporting child labor. My six-year-old cannot go to school because he is working to support the family. We don't make enough money to assure we can give an education to our kids. Then mothers stopped buying grapes. It's a simple as that. I learned that it's about telling personal stories. About getting out there and telling your story and finding out who thinks like you do. We are not alone here.
DB: It's been over 50 years since Edward R. Murrow made his famous documentary "Harvest of Shame." As I speak to you, between 1,000 and 1,100 undocumented workers who do some of the hardest work that we all depend on, are being removed from this country, at an accelerated rate. We are going to reach about two million under Obama. How do you see your film in that context? Would you like it to play a part in this transformation, bringing awareness to help end this type of suffering?
DL: I definitely hope this film participates in the bigger struggle that is happening today by reflecting on how this country can allow more than 11 million workers not to have the rights of those who consume the fruit of their labor. Arturo Rodriguez, [president] of the United Farm Workers, said that 80 percent of the workers are undocumented. That is ridiculous. It is a new form of slavery, where these people are feeding the country but can barely feed their families.
I was talking to some people in Miami the other day who did a little documentary on the fields, and they found eight-year-old kids working still today. Conditions have changed for a few farm workers -- in a few places in this country they have better conditions. But there is still a big change needed. It will happen if we consumers get involved, if we make sure we understand that their stories are our stories. I think the great and beautiful message of this movement that we need to be reminded of today is that it was about being united, about finding those things that connect each community in order to find the strength to collapse the very powerful industry in this country. They achieved it.