WHY THE FIGHT IN THE FIELDS?
In 1989, the two of us, Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles-both filmmakers and old friends-came together with a shared set of concerns about telling stories on television that weren't being told. One of the most important stories, and one of the most neglected, was that of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers' movement. Although neither one of us came from the fields, we found that in many ways, the farmworkers' struggle had shaped who we were and how we viewed the world.
Ray Telles's deep interest in the farmworkers' movement was rooted in his family: "My father and uncle, both electricians, went to Delano to help out in the early days of the union. As a college student I became involved in the Chicano movement and, like many, I came to recognize Cesar as a major force in determining its direction. Later, as a journalist covering the farmworkers, I was able to draw on this background to do stories that were both close to home and very important to my family. When I made films on the toll exacted on farmworkers by pesticides or on the UFW's battles with a hostile state government, the specific problems were new, but the stories were all too familiar."
Rick Tejada-Flores worked as a volunteer for the UFW, taking pictures for the union and later creating the union's first documentary film. "Those two years with the union were a defining experience in my life. Like so many people who came into contact with Chavez and the farmworkers, I was indelibly changed by the process. Although it was the start of my work as a filmmaker, the real lessons that I learned were about how society works and how it can be changed."
The UFW's story, which had touched both of our lives so profoundly, is the story of how ordinary people can become extraordinary, how the powerless can exert influence, and how the voiceless can be heard.
Cesar Chavez was the most important Latino leader this country has ever seen. Part of his greatness was that his vision reached out to touch millions of Americans-not just Mexican Americans, but ordinary people of all sorts. The connection that the farmworkers forged between the haves and the have-nots created a remarkable moment in American history-an era in which people who would not normally meet connected and worked together to correct terrible injustices.
The film and the book are an attempt to capture the intensity and focus of this remarkable movement and to help people learn its powerful lessons. With the death of Cesar Chavez in 1993, there is an urgency to preserve these memories while they are still fresh-but not because Chavez's death was the end of the story. The farmworkers movement is flourishing today, and all across the country there has been an outpouring of honors for the man who inspired it. But unless people remember what Cesar Chavez believed in and dedicated his life to, this belated respect will be an empty gesture.