tv Book Discussion on The Crusades of Cesar Chavez CSPAN April 20, 2014 12:45am-1:33am EDT
>> at least two. >> well very opinionated but he said the governor -- the government needs to explain things better so everyone understands what they are dealing with and that's a really good point as well as concentrating more on the country itself. >> could you raise the mic a little bit closer? >> did you hear any of that? >> yeah. >> instead of concentrating on wars and foreign policies and all of that focus more on the country america. do you have actual solutions to bring the focus back to america? >> how do we grabbed the country and focus them on the right thing is? >> and educate america as well. >> near the back of the book, i don't say -- this is not a
polemic or a rant about if i was running the country what i would do. that's like more vanity than this book wanted to be. what i do illustrate is several critical alternatives for both national security and medical services which are two drivers of the federal budget going forward. i think we need to have this public debate about what the role of the united states is going to be over the next 20 years and whatever that mission is we have to adjust our military logic to that mission and we have to pay for it with taxes and right now too often you have people who want to lower taxes and to raise military spending and those two goals are in conflict. we ought to decide what our role
in the world should be and the same thing we had to do with medical services because we can't just deferred this debate and pretend it's free. every time we borrow then we narrow the choices for people that are your age. >> we have five minutes? or are we cut off? i'm afraid the imperatives of our filming this event in the schedule for today makes it so that we have to end here. you did a great job. bill white and here's the book. thank you all very much for coming. [applause] [inaudible conversations] booktv's coverage of last week
san antonio book festival continues with miriam -- miriam pawel describing the life of cesar chavez. [inaudible conversations] >> good morning. welcome. today we are very fortunate to have very special guest with us. miriam pawel. however i would like to introduce myself first so you know who to complain to later. my name is greg r. joost yost. i'm a former book editor of the
san antonio express news. i worked for many years in los angeles for "the los angeles times". i've written for "the new york times". currently i write for the los angeles review of books and i am on the board of directors for the national book critics circle i am also the author of a book of poetry that deals with the casa and impact is called lacossa. at this time i would like to introduce mary m.. mary m. is the former pulitzer prize-winning editor who spent 25 years working at newsday and "the los angeles times". her book, the crusades of -- "the crusades of cesar chavez" a biography is a first comprehensive biography of the
iconic charismatcharismatic leader. she has also written the union of their dreams, a widely acclaimed and nuanced history of chavez united farmworkers movement. she recently received a national endowment for the humanities fellowship to support her work on the chavez biography. please welcome miriam pawel. [applause] >> thanks. >> hi marion. >> hi greg. can you hear me? okay, i am on. >> i want to ask you something i feel that is really important. what rot you through the writing about cesar chavez? i know a lot of people here in texas know who he is but i was
very surprised to learn that recently when the mexican filmmaker gabriel luna was having the premier of his film on cesar chavez at south by southwest he took a stroll down cesar chavez boulevard and asked people if they knew who cesar chavez was. most of them said they felt he was the boxer, the mexican boxer julio cesar chavez or they thought he was who leer cesar chavez junior who is also a dr.. another answered isn't he the venezuelan leader cesar chavez -- hugo chavez and several others
said they thought he had something to do with the chicago movement. it really surprised the filmmaker and i want to ask you why did you decide to write a full-length book after writing a long series in "the los angeles times" about the union's and then your recent book the union of their dreams? >> thanks for asking that question because the answer is it ties closely to what you just said about luna and the fact that there was no biography and that is why i wrote it. because you all are here today presumably because you have heard of cesar chavez and know something about him but he is virtually unknown these days. when you get outside of california and the southwest people really have no idea who he was.
i was in salinas valley who people may know was one of the hearts and still is the heart of the agricultural industry and it teacher got up during an event and said her students had no idea who cesar chavez was. i believe that part of the reason that he has faded from our collective memory and not gotten the attention and the study he deserves is because there has been until recently so little serious scholarship about him. there has been a lot of hagiography. there has been a lot of repetition of sort of stories that make him into a fairly one-dimensional figure. so a lot of people have known that he was a much more complicated person but there has been a reluctance to tackle the subject. i also knew from my earlier work but there was a tremendous amount of material available.
he saved everything. he saved documents. he saved hundreds of audio tapes of conversations in meetings and conferences so i knew there was this rich trove of material that had not really been fully -- and i think he's such an important figure in history and should be and a biography would be an important step in restoring him to that position that he deserves. >> how helpful for earlier works about the union and chavez like john gregory dunne and peter mathieson and i feel there were a couple of others. how helpful were those earlier biography is? >> they were helpful, all three of those books in different ways for folks who don't know about them. the first two books that you
mentioned john dunne and peter mathieson were written at the height of the struggle in the real glory days of the movement and the boycott. probably people remember the boycott. they were both written in 67 ,-com,-com ma 68, 69 that time period and they are both wonderful writers. each of them captured a lot about the spirit of the time. dunne was much more leery of where the movement was going to end up in some ways more accurate in his predictions. peter maya citizen who i interviewed was much more optimistic about where things were going to end up and jock levy was the official biographer of cesar chavez early years in his book was published in 1974. there's obviously a big gap after that but because he was
authorized he was allowed this incredible access to chavez and chavez in the union knew that they would have the right to review the manuscript beforehand what levy did was take everything and transcribe all the tapes and ultimately he had a falling out and sold his collection to yale university. there are again these hundreds of tapes and negotiations in all sorts of very inner circle meetings. he went with chavez on a trip to europe where i'm on other things caesar and howland chavez had a meeting with the pope. on the flight that he tapes caesar talking about the threat and what it meant to him to meet the pope so it was this wonderful resource for me. >> do you repeat any of those stories for us recent readers?
>> absolutely. i do repeat the stories and i separate out the facts and the way this to have been embellished over the year some of them. in really interesting and important ways. chavez created to some degree his own mythology and he did that because he was a great organizer and he did it sort of two help with the cause. but in the end after his death i think it's time to separate out and show the ways in which he created a mythology. >> i understand that you did not have access to most of the family or i believe deloria's as well. could you tell us the reasons that they felt perhaps they didn't want to cooperate with another book? >> so i think i should let the
the families speak for themselves about their reasons that they felt it was transmitted to me through third parties and they felt that only member of the family should write the story essentially. they have always retained great control of the story. the movie is the families movie and they were very involved in the movie so they did not feel that i was the person who should be writing the story. i knew that going in and i knew i wouldn't have cooperation i knew there were so much material available that i didn't need it. >> i understand that they did respond to your first articles that appeared in the "l.a. times" and they actually filed some kind of a suit with the attorney general. what was the result of that? >> well, the articles in "the los angeles times" were much more about what the ufw have
become and the fact that the union was really not in the fields anymore and had not been for many years. the story focused mostly on the present and on the problems that farmworkers still suffer from and exploitation and the terrible housing conditions that go on while the ufw has moved on and done a lot of entrepreneurship. the in doing those stories i started to look back and i came to the past and ultimately this book through the present and through writing about farmworkers conditions today. the union did not like the stories. they filed a notice saying they were preserving their right to sue the paper for libel but ultimately never filed the suit and they issued a 100 page report alleging all sorts of things which the paper stood by the stories and we never ran any corrections.
>> there is a famous line in a film by john ford and they are having the john ford panel next door. it is a scene at the end where james stewart goes to a newspaper reporter or editor and tells him that he is the man -- he's not the man who shot liberty balance and the newspaper editor won't hear anything about it. he says when the legend becomes fact print the legend. i think i would like to start their by asking you how caesar got started as a labor organizer. ..
becomes part of it and buy a 54 clear the impresses a the thunder of the organization. then chavez is on the payroll so he has a 10 year apprentice ship working for ross before he goes off into the part of this story that people are familiar with. a. >> go back to his name. when i first got a copy i was startled because the accent marks of his name were not there and it read cesar chavez. i've looked it up and i found several newspapers
found they do not use the accent marks and also with the pita they were there and he had a different original name. did he use the accent marks? >> his name was is our real he was named after his grandfather brachiate did not know him. growing up he is the name was changed to cesar from cesario. the mother was never happy about the situation she always called him cesario he spoke spanish at home with his parents so he became caesar when he was not at
home. although there is a revisionist history in that case of the interview with america and she was asked why they call him caesar in the movie and she said helen calls him caesars so that it is clear enough for me. he never used the accent in recent years it is a revisionist that people would pronounce it different but they did not back in the day. >> was he at that time he became organizer of the cso became disenchanted with the way things were being run
and also upset with the fact that once the union members were put it into the circuit they often wanted to talk about money and very little else in not support the work that needed to be done later on. >> that is the key point here is the organizer of the cso to empower mexican americans part to of the voting public not a political power as he works with them to move into the middle-class but he was very upset.
and writing letters to fred ross that the way this is going it is not the direction that i want. he really believed it was important to empower people not to live in poverty in the comfortable but not forget to where they came from to help people who were still living in poverty to help the cause. lots of the reason he starts off on his own but that strong feeling i have empowered people know they use that power become significant later when you try to understand the decisions that he made to maintain control because he
did not want to be in that situation again. later, as the cso was of membership organization. a lot of people support labor unions because they want to make more money. not everyone joins of labor union because they believe they've want to do better the lives of other people. so he felt very strongly you need to educate workers to share the philosophy and it became a tough issue. >> at the beginning of the mexican american civil rights movement and there were other theaters in the mix.
there was consol was in the crusade for justice. and chavez it seems to be very focused solely in in california. >> he wanted to be the sole person in control and he made some efforts to organize and texas he did not want to be in the position of sharing power so that a strong commitment was not necessarily shared by the a other invaders of the
chicano movement. ironically he emerges at the end as the symbol of the chicano movement even though he did not embrace it in the earlier years. >> the appearance that catapulted the union and his crusade to a more national audience? >> absolutely. it takes place march 19682 and a half years into the striking and he has become one nationally known figure with the march to sacramento but the of tremendous organize saying opportunity cough the place where he
fasted is union headquarters is a the shrine. there are people walking on their knees up the past to the 40 acres and it attracted tremendous media attention send kennedy coming to break the fast is the iconic pitcher more have spent end ed the kennedy name was nervous and also one week before kennedy announces he is running for president. also tying the vfw into there first political campaign to you do door-to-door campaigning to help plan the up primary. get was important for those political reasons but it is a turning point and i always
'' his top advisor as a protestant minister to say that after the fact he was to saintly to make mistakes. i think it is it important concept it was thrust on him to some degree he embraced the n.h. that was part of the marching as well and when you sacrifice such of powerful forces of forces other people to want to help you and i think it did. >> was he a religious man or the fact they appropriated their religious icons? >> i think it was both. certainly it was the real thing he grew up a and the mother was quite religious
with mexican and catholicism that has its own cultural residence for people. it was important to him but he used it effectively and to remember when the strakes start the catholic church in california is not supporting the farm workers union now we think of them as being on their side but the pillars of the church where the growers. they were lowe's to do anything there is a lot of great phials the archdiocese kept that show all the letters get these people out of here. so lacking support to know how important you tried to
convince very for mexican and fire workers who are scared to speak up because they risked their jobs and their homes and the likelihood. so to have the support was important to. dues the banner and with the march choose sacramento people were not just familiar with california but through its of farmworker towns and everywhere they go the church past two opens the doors tuesday of farmworkers. was brilliant in the
ultimately the bishops would support them but it took awhile. >> at the same time there was lot of discussion as stews the nonviolence they used in the boycotts. and to you mentioned there was violence with acts of sabotage men well chavez a relative of caesar perhaps i am reading too much into this but i sense the emotional violence that many volunteers must have felt when they were dismissed from the movement to cause emotional violence. >> this was not a foreign concept. i believe that manifested
itself in in different ways. one reason he was so effective he was single-minded in his intensity and was communicated people interpreted that in different ways than people may identify if you believe of this leader who is a tremendous force that anything goes, this victory victory, they do things, that would not have been sanctioned. people look the other way when i've looked through the grovers one of the things that makes them the most angry this is not a non-violent movement. in understanding of violence
against people were not? if you are a grover your life is your figure than somebody chops down of fine you are pretty a injury. there was the degree of violence. >> during this time we were privileged at that time to have a performance he brought his troupe of actors santry reprised with that and very proud. little did we know that chavez had distanced himself the he came second and not first and if there we're dismissed.
i discovered this bit of information and if you would clarify that to a and the relationships that caesar had with people all floor face union. >> it was an interesting movement in its early years for people who might not know his name, he plus a farm worker born in a labor camp but the family moved to san jose at great sacrifice to make sure their kids went to high school and college. he was of migrant farm worker to become a promising playwright as part of thatcher radical group it
was an important part to because things happen in a vacuum with the civil rights movement and of the early support that came out of that san francisco area. the play plus about to be produced off-broadway to help the farm workers. in to search a theater that we don't have anything go ahead. and can for people who'd don't know i've would say there is a wonderful web site that there is actual video you can see online.
and where they improvise and do skits to farm workers many who are not literate but they are natural sand the theater becomes immensely popular as entertainment and education and with that basic concept how does this work? what is a union? >> he is the rival forces not because he wants to run the of labor union but a voice for farm workers. p.m. by day's the more radical element with the independence. those that are politically active have their own opinions there is a period of time 1967 when those are
not welcome. and chavez never cody gin a democratic organization in but it never was a democracy. 67 is the first purchase and plan he did a great session earlier this week he talks publicly for the first time of being purged. i found all the records but then i found to the written message to it -- minutes of the meeting that help me to tell that story in a authentic way he never talked about it. because that was the eighth
dose not to do anything to hurt the union. but the emotional impact to be thrown out and not talk about that was something that the can of long time to work through rise well. >> and others say that strikes me is as interesting is the workers at some point were no longer farmworkers of the board and it seemed to go against the original zero dash one dash stadia it should be made up of farm workers deciding for themselves and it seems that some point he decided he did not want anyone to tell him how to run something.
is that accurate? >> when he becomes very frustrated he says i feel i am back where i was with the cso and if that is what you do not want with that leadership goes back to the idea if you have power is not what you want but it is a struggle between the movement into the union that leads to is said to my is as a viable union. >> at some point chavez is a national figure part of the do to the boycott with the boycotts held all over the country will you tell us how that became a symbol of his
successes? >> i will quickly to have room for questions because to read this shows his billions that what he did for their great boycott was to send mexican-american farmworkers did not have said they support to tell them to stop the sale with chawed its face it is an insane idea but the smart ones could tap into those networks to put pressure on to the supermarket chain that is when evans the strike that they go back to sell grover's we just cannot deal with this point cut nonsense any more. solve your problems.
the height of creativity because then we have to figure out how to run it. >> we have time for questions from the audience. >> yes. >> the question is the role of the of filipinos in the strike. they originally called started. >> they had their own union they started the strike they blocked out thank those touche chavez. so they played the importune
troll to re-emerge 66 a and they always felt like second-class citizens to bridge the differences but there is leadership although the most prominent is strongest organizer had their frustration with his unhappiness could not delegate to to become marginalized. >> did was say misguided effort to of ferdinand marcos that is a polarizing event as well. we have not talked about it but there is an important part of the story.
>> i believe those were held in filipino hall for the most part. said it has denounced the film for not in the background for the four french i think it's the contract sitting next to new chavez but he was in the background. >> q shared with me before that a presentation you worked as the agricultural reporter. the first is how much did you physically retrace the path when you we're doing your research? did you do time in non
acidulous? and guess you did not talk to his brother died in your extensive research the of one negate you found what the public does not know but should it? >> yes. i went to everywhere i climbed out to the ruins of that house. so place is important to review our righty in so many still exist i was able to so yes i retraced all of that. the nugget that i'd like he was flat on his back and could not move in tremendous pain and was in traction and he could not sit up in bet. there are cool pictures of the book you see a bar
because he had to lift himself up. finally the kennedy family doctor who treated kennedy for his back tries to help and she watches him walk and sees right away he is kirk did a and tells him i am so relieved because now it is a simple solution to even out your shoe also because his second toe is long dirty and we know this because he taped it. the fact that here is the be an aha -- a man flat on his back to preserve history to turn on a tape recorder that four years later i listen to that tape that some double
what about the man and the book. >> did you researched the role played in the united farm workers movement? >> i did and then there is some information about him with the degree to which independent organizations formed to trying to function and chavez undercuts to make sure they did not get funding so there is a turf battle because he wanted to be the sole voice for the farmworkers so the idea is it was say national union but they could not effectively run california you neff -- enough to expand
the. >> the texas farm workers back in 1978 also a march 2 washington. speaking to antonio at the time they've wanted to represent all farm workers both u.s. citizens and mexican workers in and caesar did not want that. old the u.s. american farm workers to be represented. >> that was the big philosophical difference between you and the two groups. >> my question has to do with the unions. the late forties was say
polar act because when you strike the alternative is for the of managers to do the job. i wonder if that was evidence after striking some of there for their strategies highest to-do's the boycott? to make absolutely a. the because they rate excluded from the nlrb they could do secondary boycotts something that was perceived to be a and in advantage was the farm worker's benefit for the boycott. it is a complicated story. >> as a nurse i am interested in pesticides as the farm workers with the close proximity of their poorer