Cesar Chavez: An American Hero

Cesar Chavez film poster

“You Can’t Humiliate Someone Who Has Pride. You Can’t Oppress Someone Who’s Not Afraid Anymore.” – Cesar Chavez

Local Associations are going to the movies March 28th and taking friends. Lots of friends. Because they bought out the theater, and for a very good reason. We must pack the theaters and make this film a success.

The premier of the historic Cesar Chavez movie will hit theaters Friday, March 28. Educators are excited that this story is finally being told. Union activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Civil rights activists are excited that this story is finally being told. Faith communities and parent groups and Latino groups and immigrant groups and justice groups and any group of individuals who know about Cesar Chavez’s real story and want others to know about Cesar Chavez’s real story are excited.

I’ll admit, that I’m excited for the same reason all of the above are excited. For as long as I can remember, Cesar Chavez has been my inspiration. I don’t know many heroes who were so ambitious for their cause and so personally humble. I’m not sure people who are familiar with only the Cliff Notes of his life understand the profound goodness of this American hero.

Director Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez dramatizes the pain, the hope, the sacrifice he and his family made. We see the individual heroism of a man, but we feel the collective miracle of the California grape boycott and the thousands who made it happen. Michael Peña brings to life Cesar’s quiet determination to confront injustice. You’ll recognize America Ferrera from TV’s Ugly Betty and Real Women Have Curves, but she is all grown up here and plays Helen, the wife and mother who stands by Cesar when she’s not sure even he really understands the dangers he faces. Rosario Dawson is transformed into the take-no-prisoners, Dolores Huerta. And nobody plays a bad guy like John Malkovich plays a bad guy. And by that I mean he plays the grape-grower as a flawed and arrogant human being, but not as a cardboard villain. You will understand the deep-rooted racism that drives him, but you will also see his confusion as the comfortable world he knows shifts with the Civil Rights tide of the 60s and begins making demands of him with which he must come to terms.

Churches and local school groups and clubs and unions and friends and neighbors are making going to the Cesar Chavez movie an event. We Latinos don’t need much excuse to party I’m proud to say, but this event is more than that. It is a celebration of a human being who by the power of his humble yet fierce goodness, inspired those around him to do more than they thought possible. With absolutely no reason to hope for success, they won something that pushed Martin Luther King’s moral arch of the universe towards justice for a group of migrant grape-pickers. And that has inspired others to dream and hope and fight for more and more and more justice for more and more and more human beings living on the margins of life.

Cesar didn’t ask for a movie about his life. In fact, he said, “If you want to remember me, organize.”

So, in honor of this decent, honest warrior for justice, I suggest we all do just that. Organize a celebration and get a friend or a Scout troop or a Sunday school class or a Girls Night Out or a high school Spanish Club or your Bunko team or your family and go to the movies on the weekend of March 28th.

The moral arc of the universe bends towards the Cineplex this weekend. It is a film that needs to be seen.

2 Responses to “Cesar Chavez: An American Hero”

  1. Miriam Aguilar Escobar

    Cesar Chavez a great advocate for the people! I remember when at NEA some members presented an NBI, demanding to have a National Cesar Chavez Day, one of them the former Chair for NEA Hispanic Caucus, Roberto Chavez. As far as I know, there is not a National Cesar Chavez Day. We have a Martin Luther King Day, how about working on making this demand happening at next Representative Assembly? Si se puede!

  2. Laura Gonzalez

    I was lucky to see this about a week ago at a free screening in Berkeley; Diego Luna and Dolores Huerta were there, among others.

    I liked the movie, I especially liked the inclusion of the Filipino workers and their struggles. My main criticism was the casting of Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta. She not only doesn’t look like the Farmworker co-founder, being of Puerto Rican/Afro-Cuban descent, she doesn’t even look Mexican, which I thought detracted from the movie.

    Other than that and a few quibbles, I liked the film and will go see when it opens, gladly shelling out a few dollars to let The Powers That Be know there is a market for movies like this.


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