Cesar Chavez

A Photographic Essay



By: Ilan Stavans

Who was Cesar Chavez? Essay and photographs restore this man to his place in American history.

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Who was Cesar Chavez? Essay and photographs restore this man to his place in American history.


Chavez has become a hero, an icon, so it's difficult for people, especially young people, to understand him simply as a man. Esteemed Latin American scholar and writer Ilan Stavans, supported by 40-plus photographs from archival collections at the Cesar Chavez Foundation, restores this man's humanity so that readers can understand his struggles as a labor organizer and civil rights activist for farm workers.


The book discusses his growing up and his family; his comadre Dolores Huerta, who stood with him from the beginning; his relationship with Dr. King and other activists in the broader struggles for civil rights for all peoples of color; and his insistence on being an activist for the rights of farm workers when so much media attention was given to the civil rights activists in the cities.


Ilan Stavans is a nationally respected Jewish-Latino writer and scholar. His story Morirse està en hebreo was made into the award-winning movie "My Mexican Shivah" produced by John Sayles. His books include Cesar Chavez: An Organizer's Tale (Penguin, 2008), Dictionary Days (Graywolf), The Disappearance (TriQuarterly) and Resurrecting Hebrew (Random House). Stavans has received numerous awards, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Jewish Book Award, the Latino Book Award and Chile's Presidential Medal. He is a Professor in Latin American Culture at Amherst College.

Awards and Accomodations

Américas Award for Children and Young Adult Literature Commended Title, 2011
2011 Skipping Stones Honor Award

1 review for Cesar Chavez

  1. National Catholic Reporter
    “Stavans makes it abundantly clear that Chavez’s life should not be forgotten.

    Fearing that to younger generations, Cesar Chavez is more familiar as ‘the man on the stamp’ or the ‘statue in the park,’ Ilan Stavns sought to immortalize the labor activist’s life and spirit in Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay. Stavans interposes photographs within text, including many quotes from Chavez himself.

    ‘Taken together, these images offer an intimate, humane glimpse of Chavez the man through the eyes of those who knew him best.’

    Stavans’ essay opens with a picture of 6-year-old, overall-wearing Chavez on his family’s Arizona ranch, and some of Chavez’s earliest and pained recollections of growing up as a migrant worker after his family lost their land. The most intimate joys and trials of Chavez’s young life are unfolded as readers progress from his nomadic childhood, sporadic education ,8th–grade graduation, and his enlistment in the Navy (what Chavez called ‘the worst two years of my life’) to his greatest pride: his marriage to his high-school sweetheart and the birth of his eight children.

    It is from Chavez’s personal reflections on these moments in his life and Stavans’ description that Chavez’s greatest influences are revealed. Chavez himself explained:

    All my life, I have been driven by one dream, one goal, one vision: To overthrow a farm labor system in this nation which treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings…My motivation comes from my personal life—from watching what my mother and father went through when I was growing up; from what we experienced as migrant farm workers in California. That dream, that vision, grew from my own experience with racism, with hope, with the desire to be treated fairly and to see my people treated as human beings and not as chattel.”

    In more than 40 compelling photographs, readers see Chavez proudly holding his diploma, laughing with his family, embracing farmers, sitting with the Kennedys, shaking hands with Pope Paul VI, boycotting, getting arrested, fasting, and crying, with Chavez’s compelling words and actions trimming the pages. Stavans makes is abundantly clear that Chavez’s life should not be forgotten.”

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