tv Book Discussion on The Crusades of Cesar Chavez CSPAN May 26, 2014 7:03pm-7:48pm EDT
saying there are common sense solutions that pre-date all of these arguments. so does slavery and oppression of women. >> slavery and denial of civil rights are moral issues primarily. yes, johnson through voting right and open housing helped force that particular part of the country, and not just the south. you had south boston with race riots, too. so it wasn't just the southern attitude. i was working for nbc during that period and i was with reporters include charles quin who went down with the freedom writer that helped sear the conscious of the american people that this doesn't just wrong legally this was wrong morally.
black people were entitled to the same rights at the restaurant counters, jobs, housing or whatever it was not because the government was going to give it to them but because they enjoyed the same rights as every human being. >> guest: government had to enforce equal treatment not segregation so it was an important tool. >> host: and i am not throwing the baby out with the bath wart. there is a reason for government. government needs to restrain the sinful people who will not be constrained from within a higher power. government is an established institution but it has limitati limitations. the founders wanted the government to be restrained so the people would be unlimited. that is why it starts we the people not we the government. >> thank you for coming in. the new book is called what
works and common sense solutions for a stronger america. and you can notice the groundhog on the cover and that is because he thinks we keep ignoring the common sense solutions that our forefathers have given us. >> guest: repeating us the same thing like on groundhog's day. that is absolutely right. >> that was afterwards in which non-fiction artist are interviewed by people familiar with their material. afterwards airs at 10 p.m. on s saturday and on sunday as well. you can watch it online as well. go to our website and click on
afterwords in the upper right hand of the page. miriam pawal talks about cesar c chavez coming up in next at the san antonio book festival. >> good morning. welcome. &%c1 >> hola. >> today we are very lucky to have a special guest with us. miriam pawal. however, i would like to introduce myself first so you know who to complain to later. i am the former book editor of the san antonio express news and
worked for many years in los angeles for the los angeles times. i have written for the new york times. currently i write for the los angeles review of books and i am on the board of directors of the national book critics circle. i am also the author of a book of poetry that deals with la cowza. i would like to introduce miriam pawal at this point in time. she is the former editor who spent 25 years working at news day and the los angeles. her book "the crusades of cesar chavez" is the first comprehensive biography of the
leader. she has written "the union of their dreams" a widely acclaimed and nuance history of chavez's united farm workers movement she received a national endowment for a scholarship to support her work on the biography. please welcome, miriam pawal. [ applause ] >> thank you. >> hi. >> hi, greg. can you hear me? okay i am on. >> i want to ask you something i feel that is really important. what brought you through the writing about cesar chavez?
i know a lot of people know who he is but i was surprised to learn when the mexican filmmaker was having his premier on chavez in austin he took a scroll down the boulevard and asked people if they knew who cesar chavez was and most thought he was the boxer or the junior who is also a boxer. and another answered isn't he the leader of venezuela? and several others said they
thought he had something to do with the chicano movement. it really surprised the i want did you decide to write a full book after writing about the unions in the los angeles times and then your recent book the union of their dreams? >> thanks for asking that. the answer ties closely to what you said about luna and the fact that there was no biography and that is why i wrote it. you all are here today because you have heard of cesar chavez and know something about him but
i was in the valley with the heart of the history there and a teacher got up and said their students have no idea who cesar chavez is so it isn't just austin. i believe the reason he faded from the memory is because there has been so little serious scholarship about him. there is sort of a lot of repetition of sort of very -- stories that make him into a one dimensional figure. so you know, a lot of people have known he was a much more complicated person but there was with a reluctance to tackle it. and i knew the there was a t
tremendous amount of work recorded. he saved everything. i knew there was a rich trove trove of material that had not been mined. i think he is such an important figure in history and should be and a biography would be an important step in restoring him to that position he deserved. >> how helpful were earlier works about the union and chavez like gregory dunn and i will there are others. how helpful were those earlier biographies? >> they were really helpful in different ways. for folks that don't know about the books, dunn and mathison
were written at the height of the struggle and in the glory days of the movement and the boycott. they were both written in '67-'69 and they are both wonderful writers and each captured a lot about the spirit of the time. dunn was more leery of where the movement was going to end up and more accurate in his predictions. peter mathison who i interviewed was more optmistic at the time. and the last book was the pubi x publixed '74 and because he was
authorized he was allowed incredible access to cesar chavez and they knew they would have the right to review the manuscript beforehand. he taped everything and transcribed the tapes. he had a falling out and sold the collection to yale university so there are hundreds of tapes. he was there at negotiations and inner circle meetings so they were a wonderful resource. he went with chavez on a trip to europe and he had an audience with the pope. and on the flight back cesar chavez talking about the trip and what it meant to him to meet the pope. it was a wonderful resource for us. >> do you repeat any of the
stories for us? >> absolutely. and then i try to separate out the facts and the way the stories have gotten embellished over the years in interesting and important ways. he created his own methodology and he did that was he was an organizer and it helped with the cause. i think it is time to separate out and show the ways he created the methodology. >> i understand you didn't have access to most of the family. could you tell us the reason that they felt they didn't want to cooperate with another book? >> so, i think i should let the family speak for themselves about their reasons, but they
didn't cooperate. they felt it was transmitted to me through third parties that they felt only a member of the family should be writing the story essentially. they have always retained great control over the story. the movie is the family's movie and they were very involved in the movie so they didn't feel i was the person who should be writing the story. i knew that going in. i knew i would not have cooperation and i knew there was so much material available i didn't need it. >> i understand they did respond to your first articles that appe appeared in the "la times" and they filled a suit with the attorney general. what was the result of that? >> well, so the articles in the "los angeles times" were more about what the ufw had
become and the fact the union wasn't in the field anymore and had not been for many years. the stories focus on the present and the problems that farm workers still suffer from and the exploitation and the terrible housing that is going on while they moved on and other entrepreneur type projects. so i came through the past and did this book through the presence and writing about farm worker's condition. the union didn't like the stories. they filled a notice saying they were preserving the right to sue for libel but never filled a suit and they issued a 100-page report and the paper stood by the story and we never ran any
corrections. >> there is a famous line in a film by john ford and they have having the john ford panels next door. it is a scene at the end when james stewart goes to a newspaper reporter or editor and he tells him he is not the man who shot liberty balance and the newspaper editor won't here anything about it. he says when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. i think that i would like to start there by asking you how cesar got started as a labor organizer. >> and then we will have to connect that to the legend. you have a plan.
his beginning as this was a fascinating part of the story and important to under the later decisions. -- understand -- he was a farm worker and started when he was 12 and his family lost their farm. he was in the navy and came out and worked out of the fields and was working in a lumber yard. in 1952, when a man named fred ross and no body has heard of him and that is too bad. but he was an important community organizer and ran a group called the community service organization which was almost exclusively in california and it was the first part of the mexican-american civil rights movement. he went to san jose in 1952 and started holding house meetings where you invite people over and talk about their concerns and needs and try to get people
engaged in collective community organizing. and he meets cesar chavez at a meeting and here is where we can tie into the legend because part of the legend is fred ross wrote in his journal i think i found the guy i am look for. and you can find that quote in lots of books and scholarly works but that is in fact made up. and i found the actual entry in fred ross' journal from that night and he says something positive. he says cesar chavez has great potential and energy and something very positive about him but not the quote as the legend has become. he immediately -- he is 25 years old, he is really smart and stuck in a dead end job and here is fred ross who says we will do a voter registration drive and
he becomes the chair of the drive and by 1954 -- clearly impresses ross and the thunder of the community service organization as well and by 1954 cesar chavez is on the payroll. he has a 10-year aprinticship before going off into the part of the story that more people, you know, are familiar with, when he organizers farm workers. >> let's go back to his name. when i first got a copy of your book, i was startled in a way because the accent marks in his name were not there and it read cesar chavez. i wondered and looked it up and
found several newspapers do use the accent marks. and i found in our second brain, wikipedia, the accent marks were there and his original names was different. would you tell me why he changed the name? or did he was the accent marks? >> he was named after his grand father although he never knew him. growing up outside of yuma, when he went to school his name was changed to cesar. and his mother never was happy about this situation. and she always called him his name and she didn't speak english as well. he became cesar when he went to school and he never used -- if you listen to the tapes, which i
have listened to hundreds of hours, or you talk to people that worked with him at the time, but he was always called cesar. i saw an interview with the actress who plays helen in the movie and she was asked why do you call him cesar in the movie, which they do, and she said helen called him that so it was good enough for me. in recent years there have been a revision. you will hear him referred to as cesar now. >> at the time he became organizer with the cso, i think we became dissen chachanted wite
way things were being run. and he was upset with the fact that once the union members were put in the circuit, they often wanted to talk about money and very little less and not support the work that needed to be done to create the union later on. >> i think that is a really key point that goes back to the cso days. here he is an organizer in the cso, he is helping to empower mexican-americans who have not been part of the voting public to some degree and certainly not political power. as he works with them, and as they move into the middle class, they adopt middle class values and he is really upset by this. and in the late 1950s, you see him writing in his journal more
and more and letters to fred ross and saying the way this is going -- this isn't going in the direction that i want. he really believed that it was important to empower people and for them to have a sense of dignity and not live in poverty but not to forget where they came from and help people lib still living in poverty and help the cause. that is why he starts out on his own to organize farm workers. but that strong feeling of i have empowered these people and they are using the power to goals that i don't support becomes very significant later on when you try to understand the decisions he made and the degree to which he wanted to maintain control because he never wanted to be in that
situation again. he talks about that a lot. later on, you know, the cso was a membership organization. once he is running a labor union, a lot of people support labor unions because they want to make more money and not everyone joins because they believe in the goal and want to better people and sacrifice. he felt strongly you needed to educate workers in order to share this philosophy he had and that became a tough issue. >> at this time, there is the beginning of the mexican-american civil rights movement, the chicano movement, if you will. and there were other leaders in the mix. you know, there was rest dina
and corky gonzalez and the crusade for justice in denver and there was jose guterez in crystal city, texas. and yet, cesar chavez never reached out to connect with any of them. it seemed to be very focused only in california. >> i think this goes back to the control issue to some degree. he wanted to be the sole person in control. he made efforts and we can about this later perhaps of in texas he ultimately undermined efforts of other people to organize in texas because he didn't want to be in that position of sharing power. so he had a very strong commitment to non-violence and that wasn't necessarily shared by the other leaders of the
chicano movement. ironically he emerges at the end and particularly at the end of the his life as the symbol of the chicano movement even though he didn't embrace it in his early years. >> wasn't the appearance during the fast of robert kennedy that catpoulted the union and his crusade to a more national audience? >> i think absolutely. the fast is march of 2008 and this is two and a half years into the great strike. he has become a nationally known figure particularly with the march in 1966. but the fast is a tremendous organizing opportunity. he fasted for 25 days. the place where he fasted was the union head quarters becomes
a shrine. there are nightly masses and people walking on their knees up to the path of the 40 acres. it attracted tremendous media attention and bobby kennedy coming to break the fast. it is an iconic picture and probably a picture more people have seen than any other and it is still used today and the kennedy name was enormious at that point in time and it is week before kennedy announced running for president. so it tied them into the first political campaign. they go out and do door to door promoti promoting. they are there at the hotel when he got shot. i see the fact that it is a real turning point in the history of
the movement and i quote the reverend jim drake and he said in later years after the fast, cesar was too saintly to make mistakes. and this was thrust on him to a degr degree and he embraced the image of the suffering and the penance and believed when you sacrifice it is a powerful force that forces other people to want to help you. and i think it did >> was he a very religious man or was it the fact they appropriated the religious with him? >> i think it was both. i think it was a tactic certainly. obviously it was a real thing. he grew up in a catholic home and his mother was quite
religious in a sense of mexican catholicism that has its own culture. when the strike starts in 1965, the catholic search in california is not supporting the farm workers union. now we think of the church being on their side, but the financial pillars of the search were for growers. so they were really loathed to do anything over it. and there are a lot of great files that the archdiocese kept that show all of the letters the growers are writing to the bishop saying get these people out of here. so lacking support from the
church and trying to convince very poor mexican farm workers who are scared to speak out because they are risking their jobs and home and livelihoods. and that embraces the church and having the support was really important. and he does this brilliant thing of using the banner of the gaudalupe. and in the march you walk up the spine of the valley through the farm worker town and every night there is a rally and the church has to open their doors to the farm workers. this is during lent so they have to open it. it was brilliant and the church
comes around ultimately but it took a while. >> at the same time this was happening there is a lot of discussion as to the non-violence they used in the strikes and boycotts. you mentioned there was violence at times among the farm workers. there was acts of sabotage against the growers. manuel chavez, a relative of his was relentless. and perhaps i am reading too into this but i suspect emotional violence they must have felt when they were dismissed from the movement. >> ruthlessness wasn't a foreign
concept. and one of the reasons he was so effective was he single minded focus and intensity and that was communicated to his followers and people interepted that in different ways. and if you believe and you are led to believe by this leader who is a force for you that anything goes in the interest of getting the victory, sometimes people do think in the name of the movement or on behalf of the movement that would not be sanctioned and others look the other way. when i talk to growers that lived through the era they say this wasn't a non-violent movement right away and they are right. there was a sort of passive understanding that violence
in reading your book i discovered this bit of information and i wondered if you would clarify some of that for us and the relationship that caesar had with people that were all for the union and yet were in a sense summarily dismissed? >> luis valdez was an interesting and important figure in a movement in its early years and for people who may not know his name he was actually a farmworker warned in a labor camp but whose family moved to san jose at great personal sacrifice and made sure that their kids went to high school and college. so he was a migrant farmworker as a kid, goes to san jose state comes a promising playwright. was working with the san francisco troop in 1965 when the
strike starts in part of the real radical group in the san francisco bay area. that's an important part of the story too i think because again things didn't happen in a vacuum. it was the civil rights movement was very strong and a lot of early support that may be union successful came out of that sort of particularly san francisco area. luis valdez has to decide. he's 25 in his plays about to be produced off-broadway and he has to decide is to go to new york or does he go back to delano to help the farmworkers? he goes back. he tells caesar he wants to start a theater for farmworkers and caesar says we don't have any money. we don't have any act or sammy don't have anything but sure go ahead if you want. there's a wonderful web site that the university of california at santa barbara put together where you can see it on
line. he starts this farmworker theater where they improvise and they do skits. he is teaching theater theater to farmworkers who many of them are not literate but they can perform and they are naturals. the theater becomes immensely popular oath as an entertainment of also for education. he is teaching basic concepts. what is a contract? how does this work? what is the union? and it becomes more and more popular. he is a rival forced to cesar chavez not because he wants to run the labor union but sort of as a credible voice for farmworkers. he also embodies the more radical elements of the movement not in their politics interfering that in their independence but so if any of you have dealt with people who are real politically active they have strong opinions.
there comes a period of time in 1967 when those opinions are not really welcome. chavez never particularly the leave in a democratic organization. he did good imitation in the earlier years of being a democracy but it never really was a democracy. in 1967 are the first purges and luis valdez did a great session with me at the los angeles public library earlier this week which is also on line and he talks publicly for first time in that audio of being purged. i found all the records. he told me the story but then i actually found the written minutes of the meetings and who said what and what the votes weren't so one. that helps me to tell the story in an authentic way from documents. i think it's really significant. he never talked about it. people who were purged in general did not talk about it because that was the ethos.
he didn't want to do anything that would hurt the union. louis throughout his life has always supported vfw and continues to do so but the emotional impact on him on being thrown out of not talking about that i think was something that took him a long time to work through as well. >> on other things that strikes me as interesting is the fact that many of the workers at some point were no longer farmworkers that were in the positions of the ruling board etc. and it seemed to go against his original idea that it should be made up of farmworkers deciding for themselves and ruling for themselves. it seems that at some point he decided like he did earlier on in this eso days that he didn't want anyone telling him how to run something.
is that an accurate. >> that's accurate and he talks on the tapes at some point. he becomes very frustrated with the battles that he is having with some of the board members. he says they feel like i'm back exactly where i was in this eso. that was exactly what he did not want. so the lack of farmworker urges a basin and leadership goes back to that idea that if you give them power they may make decisions that are not the ones that you want and it becomes a real struggle between the movement and the union and ultimately it leads to the demise of the vfw as a viable labor union. >> at some point chavez becomes a national figure partly due to the boycott of national boycotts that are held all across the country. would you tell us more about how that really became a symbol of
his successes? >> let me do it quickly because i think we want to leave room for questions. i will give a short boycott story. again to me this shows his brilliance and him at his best and that's what he did for the great boycott that made it so effective was to send mexican-american farmworkers across the country. never been on planes didn't have any support. and telling them to stop the sale of grapes which on its face you think is kind of an insane idea. and yet the smart creative ones were able to tap into communities of support and build networks and ultimately put enough pressure on the supermarket chains so in 1970 that is what strike contractors the supermarket go back to the growers and say we just can't deal with this boycott nonsense
anymore. you need to solve the labor problems. it's the height of creativity and ultimately creates the problem that comes up later because the union has these contracts and they have to figure out how to run them. >> i think we have time now for some questions from the audience and perhaps you can bring up issues that we have an address so far. yes? [inaudible] you haven't mentioned that. >> her question is the role of the filipinos. i think they originally started started -- >> the filipinos had their own union. in 1965 the filipinos started the strikes of the filipinos union walks out on strike and goes to chavez and ask them to
support. they play an important role. ultimately the emergence 66 and they are is that like second-class citizens in a mexican trolled union. there's an effort to bridge those differences but their leadership is very happy. the most prominent and strongest organizers for the filipinos in delano ends up leaving in frustration. i write about some of his remarks and unhappiness when he felt chavez would not delegate so the filipinos become marginalized and then chavez in an effort to do something about the misguided effort goes in 1977 to the philippines as a guest is -- of ferdinand marcos and that becomes a tremendously polarizing event as well. and praises marshall law and anyway so there's quite of bit about the important part of the
filipinos. i believe part of the meetings were held in filipino for the most part. i believe the filipino community has denounced part of the film because the filipinos are shown in the background and not in the forefront. i believe when they finally signed the contract i think it was. >> lariat leon rice right there. >> he is one of the people that signed and yet in film he is shown in the background. speaking miriam he shared with me before the presentation that you worked as an agricultural reporter or "the los angeles times." i have two questions. the first is how much should you physically retrace the path of cesar chavez when you are doing your research?
did you spend time in san jose in delano in libraries and bakersfield sacramento los angeles? i was going to ask if you got to lake isabella to talk to his brother but apparently not. the second question is in your extensive research is there one nugget you found of cesar chavez ' life that the public doesn't know that should? >> absolutely yes i went everywhere. i climbed do you might end the crumbled walls of the house where he was a child in his grandfather's estate. i think places important when you are writing and some of these places that still exist that i was able to so yes i retrace all of that. the nugget that i like is that in 1969 he was flat on his back. he had this tremendous pain. he had been in traction in all sorts of things and he couldn't sit up in bed. there are really cool pictures
in the book that i also found in the archives. one of them you see him flat on his back three there's a bar because it's a lift himself up by tabarre the bari. finally the kennedy family doctor who had treated president kennedy for his back comments to delano to try to help. she watches him walk and she sees right away that he is crooked. he has this extreme case of asymmetry. she she tells him this and he so relieved because it's a simple solution. you just to even out your shoe. she also tells him he has it been as to my leo fletch because his second toe is longer. the reason we know all of this is because he taped it. the fact to me that here's a man who was flat on his back in tremendous pain and has the presence of mind in terms of preserving history, his own history to turn on the tape recorder and 40 years later i'm sitting in the lry