March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day in California and seven other states, but the New York Times, Washington Post and most other national media again ignored honoring the Latino and farmworker icon. While Google included Chavez's face in its doodle, the national print media has failed to recognize Cesar Chavez Day even, as in 2009, after the nation elected a President urging “Yes We Can” (borrowed from the UFW’s “Si Se Puede”}, and who won the White House using grassroots outreach strategies Chavez and the UFW pioneered. This national snubbing of Cesar Chavez is no April Fool’s joke. While the New Yorker and NY Times profile figures with far less impact and contemporary relevance ---including Calvin Coolidge (!)---they and other traditional national media are trying to relegate Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement to the dustbin of history. In the process, they are ignoring how the Chavez and UFW legacy still shapes the struggles for immigration reform, Latino political power, and the drive for greater social justice in the United States.
When I was on the East Coast on Cesar Chavez Day in 2009 promoting my new book on the ongoing legacy of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement (which also highlights the UFW's historic role as an activist incubator), I was disappointed that neither the NY Times nor Washington Post had a word about the holiday. I soon discovered that this was typical of the traditional national media, which, unlike millions of Latinos, labor union members and grassroots activists, wrongly sees Chavez as a 1960’s-era relic whose achievements should be confined to history museums.
The Snubbing of Cesar Chavez
After my book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century
, was published by UC Press in the fall of 2008, two other critical assessments of Chavez and the farmworkers movement soon followed: former Los Angeles Times reporter Miriam Pawel’s sobering account of Chavez’s and the UFW’s decline (“The Union of Their Dreams
”), and former UFW Organizing Director Marshall Ganz’s Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement
Since Ganz had drawn national attention for helping to design candidate Obama’s grassroots outreach campaign, the media could have used a review of his book to connect the new President to Chavez and the UFW’s legacy. But neither the NY Times, New Yorker, New York Review of Books nor other leading national media considered Ganz’s work. Nor did they review any of the subsequent Chavez/UFW books, including Frank Bardacke’s mammoth, 848-page 2012 work, Trampling out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers
The media's ignoring all of these books at a time of growing Latino political clout reflects misguided priorities. The media has long been covering a campaign for comprehensive immigration reform that is using historic UFW organizing strategies and has farmworker alumni like SEIU’s Eliseo Medina playing leading roles, yet has no interest in books examining these connections.
While the national media ignores books on Cesar Chavez, it promotes less relevant historical figures. For example---and this is not an April Fool’s joke---both the NY Times and the New Yorker have recently provided ample coverage of a new book on Calvin Coolidge.
Amity Shlaes’ “Coolidge” got a six-page review (!) in the March 11, 2013 New Yorker,
despite its author being a trustee of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation whose stated mission was to elevate Coolidge’s stature; her prior book was a free-market attack on the New Deal ( perhaps these facts helped it get reviewed). The Coolidge bio also got a long February 17, 2013 New York Times review
which concluded that Coolidge’s record shows that he “was an extraordinarily blinkered and foolish and complacent leader.”
Why did national media see this Coolidge biography---praised by Paul Ryan as a “welcome new biography of a great American president
” ---as offering greater interest to readers than any of the serious assessments of the foremost Latino leader in the history of the United States?
I'd love to hear editors at both the New Yorker
and the Times
explain their prioritizing Calvin Coolidge over Cesar Chavez. This question has particular potency in the current era. Latino political power has been widely acknowledged to have shaped if not decided the past two presidential elections. Coolidge-type economic policies have been soundly rejected. Yet the traditional national media ignores---not only in book reviews, but in all of its coverage--- Cesar Chavez and the UFW’s influence on today’s Latino politics, and on the future of the United States.
March 31 should be a day when the traditional media helps Americans rediscover Cesar Chavez
. Its ignoring of Chavez on holiday memorialized by eight states, combined with its daily elevation of far less significant white figures Calvin Coolidge, reflects the ongoing bias against Latinos in the traditional media that has not changed since Chavez’s death in 1993.
It would be great if the national media's greater interest in Calvin Coolidge over Cesar Chavez were an April Fool’s joke, but it is all too true.