Can we speak truth to power when power butters our bread? This is the burning question that I left with at the end of this book. Reading about revolutionaries always pushes me to take inventory of how I am investing my time and energy.
As someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States, and then living my adult years in Indiana, I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of west coast issues. I only know what I learn from reading and listening to those who live much further west and south than Indiana. Unfortunately, the portrayal of American history in our textbooks has always been the perspective of the conquerors, never the conquered. Reading Chavez brought me along in my understanding of Latino issues the way reading Dr. John Perkins in my twenties brought to life African-American issues. Both helped me to realize the contemporary nature of what felt like stale history growing up as a white kid.
The format of the book is a compilation of excerpts from conversations with Chavez and those close to him throughout his life. It makes for an enjoyable, real-life reading of his experiences and work. It also highlights that he either didn’t have the time or writing skills to write the book himself…or both. For me, this is a reminder and an affirmation that, while formal education is helpful and important, the fact that our society is writing off future difference-makers based on test scores is an inaccurate way to predict the contributions people will make in society.
I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to hear and learn from the perspective of our Latino brothers and sisters.
“Our family farm was started three years before Arizona became a state. Yet, sometimes I get crank letters these days telling me to “go back” to Mexico!'” – Chavez (Levy, p. 8)
“But the teacher thought nothing of changing our names the moment we were in class. She wouldn’t pronounce his real name – which is Cesario – she cut it to Cesar right away.” – Chavez’s sister, Rita Chavez Medina (Levy, p. 21)
“While most people drawn toward liberalism or radicalism leave the church, I went the other way. I drew closer to the church the more I learned and understood.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 27)
“…you must have people who are of a certain temperament, who just cannot live with themselves and see injustice in front of them. They must go after it whenever they see it, no matter ho much time it takes and no matter how many sleepless nights of worry.” – Chavez’s fellow organizer, Fred Ross (Levy, p. 97)
“We never heard anything from whites unless it was the police, or some sociologist … They’d ask us all kinds of silly questions like how did we eat our beans and tortillas. We felt it wasn’t any of their business how we lived.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 97)
“The agents started asking me a lot of questions about Communism. I said, ‘You know damn well I’m not a Communist!’ … Then the Republicans started to red-bait me, which made the papers again. That red-baiting was the first time for me, but this was the peak of the Senator Joseph McCarthy era when many people were being accused falsely. When the charges against me hit the press, there were repercussions.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 106)