César Chávez Critical Essays

Jacques E. Levy


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

As Levy points out in his preface, César Chávez is technically not an autobiography because he, not the subject, decided what to include. The book nevertheless benefits from one important strength of the autobiography: voice. The reader is allowed to experience much of Chávez’s life story and philosophy of nonviolence through his own words, either as told to the author or presented in speeches. Of particular interest to young readers are the first one hundred pages of the book, which are devoted to Chávez’s childhood and to the trials that his family faced as small-time farmers in Arizona.

Levy clearly holds his subject in high regard. He emphasizes not only Chávez’s groundbreaking efforts in the world of union organizing but also the religious and philosophical ideas, such as nonviolence, that informed them. “Truth is your ultimate weapon,” Levy suggests to Chávez. His reply is “Yes. And truth is nonviolence. So everything really comes from truth. Truth is the ultimate. Truth is God.” Chávez is portrayed as a saintly figure, peaceful and high-minded, driven by lofty purpose, not power or ego. When Chávez fasts for weeks in order to protest picket-line violence, his action plays an almost spiritual role in uniting workers as never before.

Yet the portrait is not without blemishes. The reader learns of Chávez’s occasional outbursts of temper and is told about his arguments with close friend and colleague Dolores Huerta. He is portrayed as an exacting leader who holds associates to the same standards that he applies to...

(The entire section is 646 words.)