New Film, Book Complicate César Chávez’s Legacy

Both projects seek to reclaim Cu00e9sar Chu00e1vez's place in American history.

By Jamilah King Mar 24, 2014

This week will be a big one for anyone interested in the legacy of César Chávez. On Thursday, Diego Luna’s highly anticipated biopic on Chavez hits theaters starring Hollywood heavyweights Rosario Dawson and America Ferrera. Also this week, former "Los Angeles Times" editor Miriam Pawel’s book, "The Crusades of César Chávez," hits bookstores. And the two offer very different views of Chávez’s legacy.

From the Los Angeles Times:

In the film "Cesar Chavez," by a Mexican production team led by the actor-director Diego Luna, he is a heroic and beatific figure using nonviolence to lead his people to victory. The movie ends with Chavez’s United Farm Workers winning contracts in 1970 from recalcitrant growers.

The 534-page book, "The Crusades of Cesar Chavez," by former Times editor and reporter Miriam Pawel, follows Chavez, from his birth in a Depression-era Arizona and his father’s loss of the family farm, to his death, following a long period in which the UFW was in decline. Much of the second half of the book delves deeply into what Chavez’s old allies call "the dark side" — his isolation and his embrace of what some saw as a cult of personality.

Both the film and book are attempts to, as the Times put it, "reclaim Chávez’s place in the American memory." Like any political figure, Chávez’s politics and personal life were undeniably complicated, and that means that his legacy is bound to be imperfect.