Cesar Chavez, the labor organizer and founder of the United Farm Workers of America, was, perhaps, an unlikely hero. In this biography, his early life is shown to be fairly typical for a boy in a close-knit family of Mexican Americans who worked the land in Arizona and California and endured hardship and discrimination. His story reveals the underside of the American Dream, and his later successes in helping farm workers and building a union to represent them are a testament to something extraordinary in a seemingly ordinary man.
As a young man, Chavez looked for a way out of the fields in the Navy but only found similar ethnic hatred. He married and started a family soon after his discharge and returned to the fields. Chavez hated the injustices meted out to his family and other migrant workers. They were on American labor's last rung, thousands of individuals making a pittance for their back-breaking work, living in desperate and inhumane conditions, poisoned by the pesticides, with few rights or leaders on whom to lean. The migrant workers found a champion in Chavez, who started to see the possibilities of making a difference for those in need. He began to work for a social service agency in California and met a priest who inspired him to read and learn about figures such as Mohandas Gandhi. From that point on, his labor activism is legendary. In the context of the times, with the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and race riots raging, Chavez is shown to slowly build the farm workers labor movement, along with colleagues such as Dolores Huerta. Using the nonviolent examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., from the 1960s until his death in 1993, Chavez launched strikes, boycotts, marches, and his famous hunger strikes to force concessions from the big growers for better conditions and pay for the workers. His union lobbied Congress on behalf of the farm workers. Chavez and his supporters faced police and grower brutality, government surveillance, and death threats, and he was jailed several times. Like Gandhi, his example is for the ages.