Penthouse Retrospective

by Richard Ballad Originally Published: July, 1975

Cesar Chavez | 46-ish Years Ago This Month

Wittingly or unwittingly, some of the liberal press are helping the Teamsters in their efforts to seal Cesar’s tomb. On September 15, 1974, the New York Times Magazine published an article by Winthrop Griffith, who is a free-lance writer based in northern California. Griffith acknowledges that the Teamsters have been playing rough, but he leaves you with the impression that it’s all more or less God’s will.

He writes, “The ascendancy of the Teamsters over the UFW indicates that maybe the passionate visionary, who was once victorious, must inevitably give way to the cool technicians of an entrenched organization.”

Cesar may be a saint to the New York Times, but it’s almost as if they resent his letting the Teamsters move in. Now they have to go back to reporting the same story which they thought had ended. So the Times heaves a liberal sigh and murmurs a few kind words over the body before moving on to fresher copy. It hurts their heads and bores them silly to keep writing about good guys who are slow to get computerized and who can’t even learn how to put in the fix, for Christ’s sake. If only the UFW would stop acting human and become “an entrenched organization” with “cool technicians.” Well, what can you expect from a bunch of peons?

And that is how big media, big business, big labor, and big government batter and defeat the little man who has a just cause. People rally to the underdog but the big guys figure that if they are patient, if they spend enough, if they keep hammering long enough, maybe the underdog’s supporters will quit. The lawyers may stop contributing free legal services. Housewives may abandon the boycott lines and even buy the lettuce, grapes, and wine.

Eventually, maybe even the New York Times will come up with a piece which asks, “Is Chavez Beaten?” and then spend several thousand words assuring us that sadly enough, he’s through and though we can’t help, everything might work out for the best.

(The Times did come back with a more accurate story. On February 8, 1975, they printed a short report by Ronald B. Taylor, an author who has specialized in the farm-labor story. But it could hardly balance the heavily weighted piece in the Sunday Magazine.)

Though pronounced dead by the Teamsters and their friends, the UFW corpse has proven very lively. Last March, after a seven-day, 110-mile long march from San Francisco, more than 15,000 people showed up at Gallo wine headquarters in Modesto to challenge Gal lo to hold the free elections the company has constantly avoided.

Then, the week of May 4 was named National Farm Workers Week, not only here but in Canada and Western Europe. On the agenda were special church services in major cities, the premiere of a new documentary on the farm workers, and concerts (including one from Madison Square Garden) featuring major stars of the entertainment world.

It is a travesty to view Chavez as merely a brave man who organized a union for poor people. He is a continuing inspiration to common people everywhere who are being ripped off — physically poisoned and spiritually raped — by mindless corporations and out-of-control unions, unresponsive to the needs of humanity.

Chavez is not a minority leader. He is a majority organizer. His boycott is a way of rallying the consumer — victims against the plunderers of the earth and giving them a new incentive to fight for their lives and the lives of their children.

This interview was conducted by the author, a Penthouse contributing editor, in New York City and was followed up with several brief conversations with both Cesar Chavez and his brother and co-worker, Richard. — Richard Ballad.

You have endured physical deprivation, insults, persecution, beatings, jailings. What are your personal feelings about all that has happened to you?

Chavez: I don’t like to talk about what has happened to me. I am merely typical. So many others have endured so much more. That’s why when I have been in jail we have had no “Free Chavez” campaigns. It’s the union that counts. Concentrating on getting one man out of jail, that’s what they’d like us to do. Then they could say, “You see, Chavez is worrying about himself.”

But you must have some personal emotions about all this?

Chavez: Yes, of course I have personal emotions. I feel for all who are suffering and I feel for the ones who suffered in the past. The older ones. My father. I remember the signs, No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed. You think you ever forget that?

I remember one time when I was a little boy my father stopped our car at a broken-down cafe. It was such a beat-up place he hoped they would forget they hated us and be happy to get some business. But when my father said, “Please, could I get a jar of coffee?” they said, “No. Get out! We don’t serve any dirty Mexicans here.”

You may not be able to name every Medal of Freedom recipient in modern history, but you should know Cesar Chavez certainly. History counts.

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