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Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can)

Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution

PETER MATTHIESSEN
With a New Foreword by Marc Grossman
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 402
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjj5j
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  • Book Info
    Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can)
    Book Description:

    In the summer of 1968 Peter Matthiessen met Cesar Chavez for the first time. They were the same age: forty-one. Matthiessen lived in New York City, while Chavez lived in the Central Valley farm town of Delano, where the grape strike was unfolding. This book is Matthiessen's panoramic yet finely detailed account of the three years he spent working and traveling with Chavez, including to Sal Si Puedes, the San Jose barrio where Chavez began his organizing. Matthiessen provides a candid look into the many sides of this enigmatic and charismatic leader who lived by the laws of nonviolence.Sal Si Puedes is less reportage than living history. In its pages a whole era comes alive: the Chicano, Black Power, and antiwar movements; the browning of the labor movement; Chavez's fasts; the nationwide boycott of California grapes. When Chavez died in 1993, tens of thousands gathered at his funeral. It was a clear sign of how beloved he was and how important his life had been.A new foreword by Marc Grossman considers the significance of Chavez's legacy for our time. As well as serving as an indispensable guide to the 1960s, this book rejuvenates the extraordinary vitality of Chavez's life and spirit, giving his message a renewed and much-needed urgency.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95836-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. FOREWORD The Power and Legacy of Cesar’s Vision
    (pp. vii-xxxvi)
    MARC GROSSMAN

    The call still haunts me. I was in my Sacramento office shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday, April 23, 1993. Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s middle son and one of eight siblings, was on the phone. “I’ve got some bad news,” he said, his voice cracking. “My dad has died.”

    Paul was calling from La Paz, the farm worker movement headquarters at the Tehachapi Mountain hamlet of Keene, east of Bakersfield, just after hearing the news from union staff. They had discovered Cesar’s body when the United Farm Workers president had failed to awake in his room at the San Luis,...

  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. xxxvii-lii)
    ILAN STAVANS

    “The rich have money-and the poor have time.” Those were the words of Cesar Chavez in 1991, two years before his death. Is it sheer fancy to suggest that this sentence alone summarizes the dominant concerns of his life? Chavez’s life was defined by patience. Patience was his weapon against the grape owners and the Teamsters, against the abuse of the downcast. He had plenty of patience, much more than a normal person, and it was proven in his nonviolent marches, fasts, and petitions. “We don’t have to win this year or next year or even the year after that,”...

  4. The 1967 Report of the President’s National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty begins as follows:
    (pp. 1-2)
  5. 1
    (pp. 3-38)

    One Sunday of August 1968, I knocked on the door of a small frame house on Kensington Street in Delano, California. It was just before seven in the morning, and the response to the knock was the tense, suspenseful silence of a household which, in recent months, had installed an unlisted telephone, not as a convenience, but to call the outside world in case of trouble. After a moment the house breathed again, as if I had been identified through the drawn shutters, but no one came to the door, and so I sat down on the stoop and tuned...

  6. 2
    (pp. 39-77)

    I had arrived in Delano late in the evening of the last night of July, and was to meet Cesar Chavez for the first time the following morning in the office of his assistant, Leroy Chatfield. The whole staff had just returned from a retreat at St. Anthony’s Mission, in the Diablo Range, “a holy place,” Mr. Chatfield said, “where we tried to figure out how to make life miserable for rich people.”

    Chatfield is a gaunt, mild-mannered man with the white hair of a summer child and the, vide-eyed, bony face of a playful martyr; at thirty-four, he is...

  7. 3
    (pp. 78-110)

    On August 2 I drove down to Lamont, a farming town southeast of Bakersfield, where a small vineyard off Sandrini Road was to be picketed. The Lamont-Arvin-Weed Patch fields, celebrated by John Steinbeck inThe Grapes of Wrath, are the southernmost in the San Joaquin Valley; here the grape harvest, which had scarcely begun in Delano, thirty-five miles to the north, was virtually complete.

    At dawn, the hot summer air was already windless, and a haze of unsettled dust shrouded the sunrise. Trucks were unloading empty grape boxes at the ends of the long rows, which, in the early light,...

  8. 4
    (pp. 111-154)

    Each Friday night a Union meeting is held at Filipino Hall, a green makeshift edifice on Glenwood Street, just opposite the lumberyard. Originally the hall was headquarters for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, the AFL-CIO farm Workers group set up in Stockton in 1959 which gained local wage increases and improved conditions but got no further than the unions of the past toward legal contracts and the right to collective bargaining. AWOC membership consisted mostly of bachelor Filipinos, who had no better home to go to; only the staunchest Mexican-Americans had bothered to sign up. In addition to an accumulating...

  9. 5
    (pp. 155-170)

    On Saturday morning, with Cohen and Mrs. Huerta, Chavez drove to the airport motel in Bakersfield to meet with the Di Giorgio lawyer, Don Connors, who was flying down from San Francisco; joining them from the 9,000acre Di Giorgio ranch at Arvin would be Richard Meyer, the personnel manager, and Mack Lyons, the workers’ representative. The Arvin ranch has a mixed crew of Mexicans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, blacks, and Southern whites (mostly children of the Okies who descended on California in the Depression), and any man that these groups could agree upon, Chavez said, and a black man especially, “must...

  10. 6
    (pp. 171-200)

    Before leaving for California I had expected that I would be impressed by Cesar Chavez, but I had not expected to be startled. It was not the “charisma” that is often ascribed to him; most charisma is in the eye of the beholder. The people who have known him longest agree that before the strike, Chavez’s presence was so nondescript that he passed unnoticed; he is as unobtrusive as a rabbit, moving quietly wherever he finds himself as if he had always belonged there. The “charisma” is something that has been acquired, an intensification of natural grace which he uses,...

  11. 7
    (pp. 201-216)

    On Monday morning I drove out to the Schenley ranch to ask the workers about pesticides. Like the rest of us, farm workers are slowly being poisoned by the pesticide residues that we take in with our food at every meal; in addition, they suffer from direct exposure that has often been fatal. According to the Union, the California Public Health Department has many documented cases of pesticide poisoning among farm workers, including mass blindness and the death of children, but it doesn't act on them.

    “you can smell the poison sometimes in Delano,” Chavez says. “It’s very very strong....

  12. 8
    (pp. 217-237)

    AT the Union offices on Monday afternoon, the air was full of the talky enthusiasm of an amateur operation, though these people are amateurs only in the sense that most of them are not paid. (The law office is supported by the AFL-CIO and the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union; Jim Drake is paid by the Migrant Ministry; Leroy Chatfield is supported by the UAW.) The night before, Jerry Cohen had gone up to San Francisco, and this morning there had been a press conference at which Cohen announced the filing of a $50million suit against...

  13. 9
    (pp. 238-244)

    By Tuesday morning the victory of Monday had been offset by bad news from Marion Moses in New York: threatened with a $2s-million suit by the chain stores on the grounds of secondary boycott and restraint of trade, the AFL-CIO unions supporting the grape strike had withdrawn active support. Already the Grand Union stores were selling grapes, and the other chains were beginning to break ranks: the New York boycott, aln10st totally effective in June and July, had been broken. Miss Moses, whom I got to know in New York, is one of the most dedicated and effective people in...

  14. 10
    (pp. 245-278)

    On Wednesday, August 7, Chavez left for Cleveland. I was to meet him on Friday morning in San Francisco, where he had an appointment with Mayor Joseph Alioto; in the days between, I talked to more workers and growers, and went back south to the Arvin-Lamont vineyards to join the picket lines. Between five and six each morning the strikers got breakfast in Filipino Hall, in a small mustard-colored mess hall furnished with red-checked oilcloth tables; each table had its own sugar and salt shakers and chili peppers. The morning I ate there I sat beside Mrs. Zapata and Senorita...

  15. 11
    (pp. 279-303)

    On Friday, August 9, at eleven in the morning, I met Chavez at the Civic Center in San Francisco. I was wandering the marble caverns of the second floor, in search of the mayor’s office, when I heard my name called ill a voice with a soft ring that pierced the flat nasal clangor of the corridor. Chavez, waving, was penned in a circle of seven heavy men, perhaps fifty feet away. He had already met with Mayor Alioto, who said that if the growers would not negotiate, he would support the boycott. Now Chavez was dealing with lesser dignitaries,...

  16. 12
    (pp. 304-317)

    Two weeks later, when Chavez sent himself to New York, we went to the Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn to see Dolores, who had flown to New York on August 11 and collapsed two days later in exhaustion; we sat for a while on the edge of her bed and talked al1d laughed and ate a bag of Fritos. Dolores asked after her daugl1ter Alicia. Alicia Huerta had been living with the Chavezes since the day her mother left for New York; Cesar himself was in Delano for at least five days after Alicia began living at his house. Yet when...

  17. 13
    (pp. 318-336)

    Just after Thanksgiving I went to visit Chavez in Santa Barbara, and on the way through Los Angeles, I arranged to talk to Fred Ross and the Reverend Chris Hartmire. On the afternoon that my plane arrived, I met Hartmire at an Alpha-Beta supermarket which he was picketing in West Los Angeles. He gave me a chest board saying Don’t Buy Grapes, and we got acquainted through and around the windows of shoppers’ cars, which we tried to slow down at the entrance to the shopping plaza and inseminate with grape-strike propaganda. The drivers and their passengers had various reactions....

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 337-360)

    For Cesar Chavez and his people, the dank winter in Delano has always been a time of low morale, and the winter of 1968–69 was darkened further by the Di Giorgio sale and by Chavez’s physical inability to provide active leadership. When he came home from Santa Barbara in December, Cesar was still half crippled by pain, and finally the Union acquired another house next to its present headquarters, so that he could try to administer from bed. In mid-January he delivered an impassioned speech at Filipino Hall, asking the members for renewed sacrifice and dedication. There were plans...

  19. POSTSCRIPT
    (pp. 361-363)

    Cesar chavez was on union business when his life ended quietly in his sleep, at 10:30 or 11 P.M. on April 22nd, in the small border town of San Luis, Arizona, thirty-five miles and sixty-six years distant from the childhood farm in the Gila River Valley which is parents lost at the end of the Depression. On April 29th, in ninety-degree heat, an estimated thirty-five thousand people, in a line three miles long, formed a funeral procession from Memorial Park in Delano, California, to the burial Mass, at the United Farm Workers field office north of town.

    With the former...