Eduardo Chavez Screens his "Hailing César" at SMC to Explore and Honor his Grandfather's Legacy
It's barely dawn as the young man on the screen sets out to the grape fields to do what he describes as backbreaking work. Though he speaks Spanish like the other men on the field and is of Mexican descent on his father’s side, the young man doesn't have much in common with the other workers. This is his first day on the job.
“I didn’t tell anybody who I was,” he tells the camera. “I didn’t want any special treatment.”
The young man is Eduardo Chavez, grandson of César Chavez, the famed California farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist. Eduardo Chavez screened his feature documentary, "Hailing César," on Thursday, Sep. 26 as part of Santa Monica College's (SMC) Social Justice series.
The film’s primary focus is the younger Chavez as he learns about the true legacy of his grandfather, who died when he was only 3-years-old.
“The biggest discovery I noticed is how relevant he is today to so many people,” says Chavez of the film. “Even though that farm worker movement isn’t thriving right now, there are so many people today that- it’s like he’s their hero. They idolize him.”
The proof of the love for César Chavez is in the film; whether Chavez visits Sacramento City Hall or a park in East LA, citizens' eyes light up when he spills that he is a direct descendant of César Estrada Chavez. He receives hugs and well wishes from longtime Californians in the film as they aim to embrace a piece of their hero.
According to the film, the Chavez legacy is what it is today because of what he fought against. While Eduardo Chavez notes that he happily grew up in Hillsboro, California, the seventh wealthiest city in the United States, his father, Fernando Chavez, grew up dirt poor and endured racism. The Chavez family home in Delano was a two-bedroom house that sometimes gave shelter to up to 13 people at a time. Eight of those were Helen and César Chavez’s children. Though the family ties were strong, César Chavez often left Helen Chavez alone to do the child-rearing while he fought on strikes like the Delano Grape Strike of 1965.
The generational difficulties continue with Eduardo and Fernando Chavez, as the film shows a father-son relationship that is, towards the its beginning, based on their mutual love of golf. Fernando assists his son throughout the film to deepen his son’s knowledge of César Chavez's legacy. Along with many other discoveries, the pair learn that one thing that had kept Fernando away from Delano and many of the memories of what it was like to be a farm-worker family: pain. Eduardo Chavez experiences true empathy for his family as he chooses to take to the fields at 24-years-old to do what his father had no choice but to do when he was fourteen: strain his back picking grapes.
Along with the other films in SMC’s Social Justice series, "Hailing César" aims to create awareness. In a health-obsessed culture, the message of why the body needs foods like grapes is clear. However, the importance of the wellness and fair pay for those who pick said grapes is not so widely emphasized. Chavez hopes to change the focus with his film.
"Hailing César" was the second film in the Social Justice Series and the first screening to premiere in SMC’s new Student Services Center Auditorium. The series will conclude with SMC alum Dotan Saguy’s free lecture, “From Street Photography to Photojournalism,” on Oct. 29 in Stromburg Hall at SMC.