Cesar Chavez’s Seeds of Change

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from TIME Magazine,

A new biopic stirs immigration debates old and new.

As immigration policy is hotly debated on Capitol Hill this year, Luna and others who were involved with Cesar Chavez are hoping the movie will spark new support for reform and inspire American Latinos to get involved. “The message Chavez lived was that change couldn’t happen without the masses being a part of their own change,” says America Ferrera, a first-generation Honduran American who plays the union leader’s wife Helen. Rosario Dawson, who co-founded the advocacy group Voto Latino, plays Chavez ally and labor leader Dolores Huerta.

Immigrant-rights issues have evolved substantially in the years since Chavez founded the United Farm Workers (UFW). Undocumented workers now make up a far larger share of the agricultural workforce in California than they did in the 1960s, according to Miriam Pawel, author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, published this month. Chavez was vehemently opposed to illegal immigration, believing it made strikes difficult to execute and weakened the union. He initiated a program in the mid-1970s to locate undocumented farmworkers and report them to immigration officials, Pawel writes. And despite his early victories, Chavez’s UFW union represents just a small fraction of those working on California farms today.

“Chavez’s legacy is not in the field, which is sad,” says Pawel. Still, she says, his organizing strategies, featured extensively in Cesar Chavez, have been adopted by other activists, including those leading the modern immigrant-rights movement.

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