A Jewel in the Heart of the Fields

While many in this nation might have the mind to start a movement, few have the heart actually to do it. One reason for this is that our culture has been slow to "mine the movement for human treasures," as historian Vincent Harding once wrote. Often we prefer to perceive movements as mindless collectives charging around the countryside with banners and pitchforks rather than focus on the beautiful collection of human jewels that come together to make up movements. By honoring the heart and soul required to participate in struggles for social justice, we will perhaps remember that movements require the fullness of our humanity, not just political theories and organizing strategies.

The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle, a PBS documentary produced, written, and directed by Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles, uncovers the human treasures contained in the history of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW). The Fight in the Fields documents the plight of farmworkers in this country and the efforts to organize them by focusing on the heart of the movement, César Chávez, who died in 1993.

In the 1960s, the UFW negotiated the first successful labor contracts for farmworkers in California by using traditional strike and picket tactics in the fields, together with public education and consumer boycotts at supermarkets throughout North America. The unrelenting work of Chávez, Delores Huerta, and the many other UFW activists improved the working conditions for those who put food on America’s tables by requiring such "conveniences" as toilets and drinking water in the fields, amenities now taken for granted. They also won fair labor practices and the right to unionize for workers who were accustomed to the draconian conditions portrayed in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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