CESAR CHAVEZ: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques E. Levy

CESAR CHAVEZ: Autobiography of La Causa

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Not a pure autobiography, but edited transcripts of the reminiscences and statements of the farm workers' union head and those of his associates. It is a revealing book. Chavez describes his childhood, when for a total of 30 a day, the whole family had to struggle to get an apricot-pitting job; his mother, ""very superstitious"" and averse to fighting, seems to have been the major influence--Chavez, according to one version, gave up high school so she wouldn't have to work, though by his own account he couldn't have gone anyway. Then came community organizing under the auspices of Saul Alinsky--Chavez was an equally fierce anti-Communist--and the birth of the union in 1962. After a decade of boycotts, negotiations, picket lines and injuries, Levy admits, the union had gained only a few contracts in the whole country. The book lays out key features of Chavez's approach. First, though acknowledging that illegal Mexican braceros live in virtual slavery at home, and comparing the border police to a ""Gestapo,"" Chavez defends the union's campaign to keep them out--""the fact that braceros also were farm workers didn't bother me,"" since they were used to keep down wages. The alternative to this traditional AFL-CIO line of thought--organizing on both sides of the border--is not considered because Chavez believes in ""local"" perspectives. Second, after describing how mechanization could end the horrors of field work, Chavez describes a discussion between himself and Dolores Huerta about how to ""stop machines."" The book ends with Chavez's message that ""the poor should manage their lives."" The book will draw broad attention and will perhaps disillusion some readers who may wonder if saintliness substitutes for hard economic results.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1975
ISBN: 0816650497
Publisher: Norton