This week the film Cesar Chavez premieres nationally starring Michael Peña, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera and John Malkovich. The movie, which depicts the iconic movement of Cesar Chavez’s struggles and life’s work for farm workers, will be seen by many this Friday, March 28. I sat down with Cesar’s grandson, Alejandro Chavez, in his grandfather’s own state of Arizona and talked about the hype of the film, the cast, the critics and special moments with his grandfather.
Alejandro, a social organizer himself says it’s a movie true to his grandfather’s story and a must see for everyone!
Alejandro, you were one of Cesar Chavez’s favorite grandsons, right?
I don’t know about the favorite, when there is a lot of you; you are all the favorites…but maybe. [Laughs]
Tell us a little about the film without giving us too much. We have to keep the audience on edge until Friday night.
Yes! I don’t want to give too much away. It’s important for everyone to go see it because the movie really gives an insight to something that a lot of people think they know about. They know about the great boycott, they know about Dolores Huerta, they know about Cesar Chavez, but they know about it from a general view. The movie gets much closer, it really focuses on showing the strategies and ideas and why they boycotted and sometimes we take that for granted. It was really eye opening for me as an organizer and an educational piece as well.
The director of the film, Diego Luna, has shared a lot about your grandfather’s influence on his life. How do you think he portrayed that on film?
My tio Paul had a lot of to do with that and he says the biggest difference with Diego’s approach was that he asked questions instead of saying this is how we are going to do it and this is who we are going to cast. He started to ask questions like, “What do you see this as or think of this idea?” I think that’s something that really captured my uncle who worked closely with him and the rest of the family. He really came across as somebody who wanted to make a movie that reflected my grandfather’s story. You can read a history book and get a sense of what happened but until you talk to the people who were actually there, you don’t get a real sense and I think he really captured that well. And that was super special.
Has your family been approached to make a movie before this?
Yes, absolutely. Many people have come before but the family didn’t feel like they had that balance of reflecting his work and having that truth, as well as having that Hollywood moviemaking. [It’s a] fine line. Diego really brought that. And because we don’t really have a movie on any other American Latino, it really had to be done right.
What do you think about the cast?
There were times when I looked at America Ferrera and was like, “Wow that’s like my Nana Helen!” I love her role in Hollywood in general but the thing about her casting is that she’s somebody who is really recognized as a Latina actress and that’s why she empowers that character, same with Rosario, just great ladies.
And Michael Peña…
I haven’t had the chance to meet Michael but there’s a couple of times where he said things in his voice, it’s hard to explain, it’s like a little crack, a little accent in his voice, not even words just the deliverance of the expression. I thought he did a really good job! Especially because I’ve seen him in so many other roles in some many characters and now I think, that guy is my grandfather! He’s badass.
Good or bad, the film already has critics some saying that this movie portrays Chavez as a saint or as a God rather than a man and a mover? What are your thoughts?
I’ve had the opportunity to go around the state of Arizona and in some cases across the country and I can tell you that for people that were farm workers, people who were out there with their children, who were out there working the fields with very little hope. We’re not talking centuries ago, we’re talking 50 years ago, many of those people are alive and now have retirements because of the work of the United Farm Workers. So to some people that is like a savior to them. So to those critics, you may not see it that way but to people who had the harsh life of the fields, like not being given clean drinking water and being sprayed with pesticides, so to them he was that leader and savior. But I also say that the movie is how Diego envisioned it. We are seeing it through his sight, that’s his creation and that’s his perception of my grandfather and I think he did a great job capturing that.
What’s your favorite moment with your grandfather?
The moment that really sticks out to me the most is when I was in third grade and got suspended for fighting. I was home early that day and my grandfather happened to be passing through town. He asked me why I was home and I explained the story. He started to give me an education lesson, by asking me how I felt, which I quickly responded, I feel great! He said, do you really? Yea, I feel much better now, it’s resolved. He said to me, “But you have been suspended from school, so you’re missing on education, you are now in more trouble, and you’ve only made things worse.”
At the time I thought to myself, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now much later in my life, I reflect and I was actually given a lesson on non-violence. And to this day that’s something that always sticks with me because I always think of violence as something that causes more problems. In the movie there is a part where they talk about him doing these things where he’s always given lessons. And I think that’s something they really captured about him.
What can we take away from this film?
The history. It allows the youth and even older people who aren’t aware of Cesar Chavez to able to learn about him and his life’s work. And the biggest takeaway is that no matter what the odds and what other people think… there is always a reason to keep trying.
Cesar Chavez opens in theaters across the country on March 28, 2014..