Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay


Who was César Chávez? Here, an essay and photographs restore this man to his place in American history.

The real César Chávez got lost in the hoopla. Many think he was a Mexican boxer. Young people think he’s that guy on the stamp or that statue in the park. No wonder it’s difficult, especially for our young people, to understand his human complexities and the struggles to which he gave his life.

Esteemed Latin American scholar and writer Ilan ...

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Who was César Chávez? Here, an essay and photographs restore this man to his place in American history.

The real César Chávez got lost in the hoopla. Many think he was a Mexican boxer. Young people think he’s that guy on the stamp or that statue in the park. No wonder it’s difficult, especially for our young people, to understand his human complexities and the struggles to which he gave his life.

Esteemed Latin American scholar and writer Ilan Stavans, supported by more than forty photographs from archival collections at the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, restores this man’s humanity so that readers can understand his struggles as a labor organizer and civil rights activist for farm workers. Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay, a 2011 Skipping Stones honor award book, discusses Chavez' growing up years and his family; his comadre Dolores Huerta, who stood with him from the beginning; his relationship with Dr. King and other activists in the broader struggles for civil rights for all people of color; and his insistence on being an activist for the rights of farm workers when so much media attention was given to the civil rights activists in the cities.

Ilan Stavans is a nationally respected Jewish Latino writer and scholar. His story “Morirse está en hebreo” was made into the award-winning movie My Mexican Shivah, produced by John Sayles. His books include An Organizer’s Tale (Penguin Classics, 2008), Dictionary Days (Graywolf Press), The Disappearance (TriQuarterly), and Resurrecting Hebrew (Random House). Stavans has received numerous awards, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Jewish Book Award, the Latino Book Award, and Chile’s Presidential Medal. He is a professor in Latin American culture at Amherst College.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In more than 40 compelling photographs, readers see Chavez proudly holding his diploma, laughing with his family, embracing farmers, sitting with the Kennedys, shaking hands with Pope Paul VI, boycotting, getting arrested, fasting, and crying, with Chavez’s compelling words and actions trimming the pages. Stavans makes is abundantly clear that Chavez’s life should not be forgotten." —National Catholic Reporter

Children's Literature - Mary Bowman-Kruhm Ed.D.
Minimal text and multiple black-and-white images dramatically introduce readers to an important fighter of civil rights for minorities. Stavans begins by noting "the silence" (p. 11) given Spanish-speaking Americans in history books, monuments, and museums even though America is "a true multiethnic tapestry" (p. 11) and writes that Chavez is "a lens for viewing the nation's past in a broader, more comprehensive fashion" (p. 12). When the Chavez family lost their farm, Cesar left school after grade eight and went to work as a migrant worker, with "no home, no secure job," a "nerve-wracking existence" (p. 24). In 1952 he joined Fred Ross, who needed a Spanish-speaker from the Mexican-American migrant culture to help in his work with Latino civil rights groups. Uniting farm workers to improve wages and working conditions required a willingness to take risks, which Chavez willingly did over the next forty years. He used an arsenal of nonviolent tools to draw attention to the plight of minorities, even, as a devout Catholic, challenging Church leaders to help those struggling for justice. The photographs well document the multiple facets of Chavez's character: pensive, somber, happy, serious, weary, and weak from lengthy fasts. But the photos show mostly a determined man who loved all people and worked tirelessly to bring economic justice and equality to all. After he died in his sleep in 1993 at age 66, President Clinton posthumously presented the Metal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a U.S. citizen can achieve, to his wife Helen. A detailed chronology helpfully provides a context for events pictured. Highly recommended to broaden readers' understanding of lesser-known threads that wove together the fight for civil rights in the last half of the 20th century and that will help readers understand the continuing problems today. Reviewer: Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Ed.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Stavans is clearly a great admirer of Chavez and his career. The black-and-white photos throughout, with brief and to-the-point text, make the activist's life's work clear and poignant. Chavez, the child of migrant workers, quit school after eighth grade to work in the fields. His goal from an early age was to organize farm laborers and help them gain the respect and rights that most Americans enjoyed. He wanted to break the patterns of worker abuse, which included no minimum wage, long hours, and undrinkable water. Chavez secured better working conditions for thousands with his 1970 victory for the United Farm Workers Union by bargaining with the table-grape growers. This photo-biography covers the high points of his career, including ample and pointed quotes by him and touching on his global recognition and interactions with activist Fred Ross Jr., Dolores Huerta, Pope Paul VI, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The full-page black-and-white photos give a sense of the man at various ages, of the migrant workers' lives, and of being on the road demonstrating and striking. The book also includes a comprehensive time line. It is an excellent introduction to social activism from the 1950s through the 1980s.—Meredith Toumayan, The Governor's Academy, Byfield, MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933693224
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2010
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 793,594
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Ilan Stavans
Ilan Stavans
Ilan Stavans, editor, is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His books include The Hispanic Condition and On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language. He edited Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories, volumes #149, #150, and #151 of The Library of America.
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