Miriam Pawel is the author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography.
From her Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: You've already written about the United Farm Workers movement. What made you decide to focus on Chavez specifically?--Marshal Zeringue
A: He's never been portrayed as the complex, multifaceted leader that he was. Nor in a way that takes into account his failures as well as his successes.
Q: Did he grow up in a farm worker family?
A: He grows up on a farm that his family owns. It's not a terrible existence, but they lose their house and their land in the Depression.
In 1939, when he's 12 years old, his family moves to California. They arrive about a month after the publication of "The Grapes of Wrath."
In many ways, the California that he first encounters is that of the Joad family. He begins to work full-time after he graduates from eighth grade. He's a farm worker in the fields with the exception of when he's in the Navy.
Q: Workers gained many protections in the first decades of the last century. Why were farm workers left behind?
A: Farm workers were not covered by the labor, health, and safety laws that most of the workers took for granted.
The one constant was that there was almost always a surplus of workers. Wages were very low. There were no bathrooms in the field – a particular problem for women. There was no clean water to drink, no overtime provisions, no protection from pesticides.
Farm worker housing, and this is still a real issue, was pretty dreadful. And in addition to all the physical deprivations and difficulties, there was...[read on]