EL PASO — As a new movie about Cesar Chavez opens in theaters nationwide, the farm workers at the center of the iconic labor leader’s fight hope it will create awareness about the problems they still face today.
“It’s good news,” said Benjamin Martinez Marentes, 76, when he was told about the movie. “I was one of those who was fighting with him out in California. I have my credentials."
The movie brings the labor and civil rights leader's fight to the big screen, and chronicles the birth of the United Farm Workers Union.
The UFW was once powerful enough to organize a national boycott and strikes, including the so-called “salad bowl strike,” the largest farm worker protest in U.S. history.
“Behind Cesar’s work is the work of every woman and man in this community, kids. Everyone had to sacrifice something. Being on a strike for more than five years is quite a lot,” said Diego Luna, who directed the film.
Luna and his partners at Canana Films — Pablo Cruz and Gael Garcia Bernal — produced the film with the approval of the Chavez family. Patelion Films and Participant Media helped bring the Cesar Chavez story to theaters. The film stars Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, and John Malkovich.
“Everyone in this cast understands the necessity and the urgency for this story to be out and to be celebrated,” said Luna.
“It’s great a movie has been made about the importance of Cesar Chavez," said Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center. “But it’s also important that those who go to see the movie realize the fight to which he dedicated his life continues, that farm workers are still waiting for justice and for their dignity to be respected."
“We have not been able to stay united," said Martinez, the farm worker who supported Chavez’s effort in California.
He said workers cannot afford to strike because they have to feed their families. At 76, the father of six still picks crops.
“In the fields, they pay you what they want,” said Santiago Reyes, 58, another farm worker. “For me things have not changed much."
Reyes is waiting to be picked up by a contractor, but he is glad to hear there’s a movie about the life of Cesar Chavez.
“I’d like to see it," he said.