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Finding César Chávez

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Finding César Chávez

In the fields with the workers’ champion.
Victor  Villaseñor
Victor Villaseñor More by this author
Jul 24, 2011 at 10:00 AM

My cousin Jose was already up and it wasn’t even daybreak.

“So what are you doing up?” he asked me.

“I’m going to write,” I said.

“This early?”

“Yes.”

“Have you sold anything yet?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking that you keep writing and writing and don’t sell nothing, and your last few books that you’ve given me to read I think are almost as good as this Louis L’Amour guy whose books we truck drivers read and trade. So why don’t you come with me and write something short and hot? You know, something that’s in the news every day, instead of all those stories about when you started school and all the things that went wrong. People don’t want to hear that, especially not coming from a mexicano.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like write about this situation with César Chávez and the farmworkers down in the Imperial Valley, where my brothers Pete and Benjamin and I will be trucking melons for the season.”

I nodded. This wasn’t a bad idea. I’d been reading a lot about Chávez in the papers for months. “I don’t know,” I said to my cousin. “I like to only write about things I really know.”

“So get to know about Chávez,” he said. “Come with me right now in my truck, this morning, and see for yourself what this man does in the fields. The guy is really good. Man, can he talk and get the people excited, but sometimes he overdoes it, and I think it’s going to break some of the farmers. They’re not all rich, no-good bastards like he says. Just maybe 60 percent of them,” he added with laughter.

“Come on, Edmundo, pack a bag and come with me. Remember, ¡no hay mejor tiempo que el presente!” which means that there is no better time than the present.

The little cheap rat-trap motel where I stayed with my cousins and the other men cost $10 per night, with two men per room. These had to be the cheapest, littlest rooms I’d ever seen. I mean, the mattresses were so old and thin and full of lumps that it almost felt better to sleep on the floor. And the bathrooms had no doors, the toilets had no lids, and the air-conditioning units didn’t work; and at night it was so hot that we were sweating, because we couldn’t open the windows with all the mosquitos waiting to eat us alive.

I’d been raised a rich kid who’d always stayed in the finest hotels and had only lived in conditions like these when I’d gone hunting and we’d camped out. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought the day would come when I’d be living like this because this was all I could afford.

For over a month I lived and worked with my cousins and their men in the fields, loading trucks with melons. We were strikebreakers. We worked against César Chávez. People hated us.

“You know,” said Jose to me one evening while we sat outside, slapping the mosquitos away and trying to get cool, “I’ve been thinking maybe you’ve learned all you need to learn about this side of the fence in order to write a book, and now you should go over to the other side.”

“You mean you want me to join the Chávez people?” I asked.

“Yes, join him and picket the fields we work in. Only by seeing both sides of a situation can you really understand what’s going on and be able to tell a good story.”

“How come you know so much about writing?” I asked.

“By reading Louis L’Amour books,” he said. “And his best ones always give you a picture of both sides.”

I began to read Louis L’Amour in the evenings along with my cousins and the two other drivers, and I began to see why L’Amour was one of the biggest-selling authors on the planet, having nearly half a billion books in print. And he was popular—not among college kids, but among everyday working people. His books were fast and easy to read. There was no big, heavy thinking involved. No, one of his books was a great way to while away an evening of terrible heat and biting mosquitos. Little by little, my whole perspective toward writing began to change. These guys couldn’t put down a L’Amour book once they got into it.

L’Amour’s Hondo, which had been made into a John Wayne movie, soon became my favorite. It had one of the greatest first paragraphs I’d ever read. I began to realize that my cousin Jose had, indeed, presented me with a miraculous opportunity, because with all this that I was learning, I could maybe write a book that people would like to read.

I got so excited that I bought a used clipboard at a garage sale, along with some paper and pencils, and began interviewing Chávez’s people. Yeah, sure, I really, really was a writer, so I had to behave like one instead of an opinionated, full-of-himself rich kid. After interviewing dozens of Chávez’s people, I turned around and once more got a job working in the 120-degree heat in the fields so I could interview the strikebreakers, who’d just come across the border and knew nothing about Chávez and his people.

That night at the convenience store where we bought soft drinks, I was confronted by three of Chávez’s people who’d seen me working as a strikebreaker, and I’m sure I would have gotten beaten up if I hadn’t taken off running. My God, there was just no way I could have explained to them that I was really a writer and my book, once I got it published, would help Chávez.

About Author
Victor  Villaseñor
Victor Villaseñor is the author of the national bestsellers Rain of Gold, Thirteen Senses, and Burro Genius, the latter nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; as well as other critically acclaimed books, such as Wild Steps of Heaven and M Continue reading