César Chávez Critical Context - Essay

Jacques E. Levy

Critical Context

From its publication in 1975, César Chávez: Autobiography of La Causa won acclaim for its scope and depth of observation. One critic placed it alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) in the ranks of grand political literature. Unlike other writers who covered the emergence of the United Farm Workers as a radical new type of labor organization, Levy, who served as a press aide for the union, won almost complete access to its main players. He traveled with Chávez for five years, conducting long interviews with him and his closest associates and joining bargaining sessions and strategy meetings. There was no part of the union’s business that Levy did not witness as a participant or observer. As a result, the work is a reliable landmark account of a cause as it grew and evolved.

The book is not the first account of California migrant farm workers or even the union’s campaign, but it is unique among reportorial accounts for capturing so fully Chávez’s own version of the events. As an international symbol of the aspirations of millions of Chicanos, Chávez and his movement underlined an important demographic shift in the United States and exemplified efforts by Hispanic Americans for self-empowerment in the barrios as well as in the fields. The book adds to U.S. labor history by carrying the story so vividly to a countryside peopled by overlooked American heroes.