JANUARY 16, 2006
THE EAGLE SOARS
1st Person by Roberto Rodriguez
It is almost universally agreed that the Los Angeles Times recent
series on the United Farmworker's Union was deeply disturbing, yet
it was not surprising.
My profession occasionally contributes to these kinds of political
triangulations; rather than government, industry and media attacking
the problems of poverty and the historic exploitation of farmworkers,
they instead go after those, who at extreme financial sacrifice,
have for two generations attempted to uplift the condition of the
nation's most exploited workers.
More than anything, the series was a tragicomic encirclement (akin
to the media's complicit role in promoting the U.S. war against
Interestingly, the articles noted that Cesar Chavez and the UFW
remain the man and the institution most admired by the Mexican/Latino
community. That caveat jumped out at the reader¡¦ It
almost invited us to read into the purpose of the series: to stain
his memory and to topple the UFW from that well-deserved position.
The article seems to have backfired. Yet, the question remains:
Why did the Times deem it necessary to brazenly attack Chavez's
memory if its concern was the present state-of-affairs of the UFW?
And, where did it get the idea that it knows best the role of the
To its credit, this is the kind of reporting (length-wise) that
is lacking by today's mainstream media when it comes to being the
watchdog of government and business. Wouldn't it have been nice
if the L.A. Times had spent even half as much time reporting on
the toxic business of agribusiness and its role in the super-exploitation
of farm workers¡¦ and the historic governmental collusion
to ensure this exploitation?
My particular interest in the series was the paper's attempt to
dictate how we should remember Chavez and the UFW and what the proper
role of the union should be.
The recurrent theme for criticizing the UFW today is that Chavez
(and the UFW) strayed from his original mission: he should have
stuck to being a labor organizer - not the leader of a movement
or of a people. Compounding this idea is the notion that his family
is exploiting his image and memory.
If one does a google search of Chavez critics, we will find the
usual right wing suspects and one Mexican American columnist who
jumpstarted his career (and was rewarded) by attacking and denigrating
Chavez and the UFW. Outside of that, you will find virtually no
one else complaining about Chavez's memory¡¦ or rather,
one will not read or hear anything about the Chavez family exploiting
If anything, it's quite the reverse. The primary critique one hears
is, Why is Cesar Chavez's birthday not a national holiday? (Perhaps
in our lifetime, we will see that day).
Again, I return to the theme of memory, in this case, Chavez's
memory. Who owns it? And indeed, is his image/memory being exploited?
The truth is, virtually all memory is myth¡¦ not in
the not-true sense, but rather, in the sense that all history is
narrative. We remember what we want to remember. All peoples do
To be sure, Cesar Chavez was a human being, just the same as his
wife Helen is a human being as is Dolores Huerta (the other two
co-founders of the UFW). Human beings are not saints and social
movements are not comprised solely of legions of angels. They are
peoples who are primarily committed to social justice and equality
and in the course of struggle, make (surprise) human decisions,
often in the midst of extreme pressures.
Yet, Chavez as a historic and mythic figure is a thousand times
bigger than any newspaper, magazine, television or radio station
because of who he was and what he represents to people¡¦
a people without genuine public heroes. Here's an inside secret
as to why the bad ink don't stick: Chavez & Huerta gave brown
people - people historically dehumanized -- the black UFW eagle
and Si Se Puede. The eagle (a stylized inverted pre-Columbian pyramid)
reminds us of the ancient and Indigenous connection that farm workers
have to the land and to this continent. And Si Se Puede is a message
that springs forth from the language of the heart, an ancient indigenous
and irrepressible message that communicates that nothing is impossible.
It is the same or similar message that Malcolm X, or perhaps, more
appropriately, Martin Luther King Jr., gave to the Black masses.
Just as importantly, it is the same message that Helen Chavez and
Dolores Huerta still convey to all human beings. In the same vein,
the UFW carries on today with the work of fighting for the most
exploited human beings in this country - in or out of the fields.
No amount of hit pieces will change that, nor will it desecrate
the memory of a simple macehual.
© Column of the Americas 2006
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