Diego Luna on Why ‘Cesar Chavez’ Matters to Latinos on Either Side of the Border

Diego Luna -- Cesar Chavez Film

When I moved back to the U.S. in 2005 after having lived in Mexico for seven years, I could not shake the feeling that one of the reasons I had to come back was to somehow create a bridge, a connection of sorts, between Mexico and the U.S. I knew that those years in Mexico would forever have a deep affect in everything that would motivate me, and I wasn’t wrong.

I came to Los Angeles, a city I had only spent a few days here and there in, and immediately felt connected to the land, to its people and to its story. I always knew California had been part of México, but I hadn’t really truly grasped the concept of “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” until I started living and breathing with the Californios.

My days  the first few years here were spent in Spanglish managing the creative team at mun2. I was part of a new media experiment to bring the culture, language, nuances and sabor de nuestra cultura to a new generation of Latinos — one that was born here, but grew up surrounded by the Latino culture and heritage. Then I moved on to become a mom to a girl born in the same country I was born in, but that would definitely be brought up in a different context (I grew up in El Salvador). Motherhood opened me even more to realize that my need to always be con un pié aquí y otro allá, my longing for my real “home,” would never leave me. And I knew there had to be more parents like me, so SpanglishBaby was born. There and with that community I was free to be y de añorar.

But as much as I was a Latina living in Los Angeles that was making sure our connection to Latin America was strong and solid by celebrating our language and traditions, I realized I knew nada about the history and reality of Latinos in the U.S. I constantly drove by Cesar Chavez Street and I didn’t even question to find out who he was. And this is me living in Los Angeles — I can’t imagine how little to nothing is known of him outside of California.

I started learning more about his life and the movement thanks to the fact that March 31st is Cesar Chavez Day, an official state holiday in California, Colorado and Texas. We observed the celebration on SpanglishBaby and encouraged parents to read to their kids books about his life. Then I met Dolores Olmedo, Cesar Chavez’s partner in crime, at the LATISM conference in 2011 and I dug even more to find out about the life of service this fabulous woman has led.

So when I found out Diego Luna directed and produced a film to tell the story of  Cesar Chavez, the greatest leader Latinos in the U.S. have ever had, I was so intrigued to find out more of why he, as a Mexican from the other side of the border, was so interested in having this story told and how that process unfolded for him. I got the chance to ask him just that during the junket for Cesar Chavez a few weeks ago.  Aside from his five-year-old son being born here and that opening up a yearning for him to want his son to know about the community he belongs to, he also wants to tell a story that will unite all Latinos, on either side of the border. His response merits that I transcribe the whole thing and share with you. I hung to every word:

We know very little south of the border about the Latino experience of being in the North side — still being connected, but fractured to your past — that duality, we know very little about. There’s a lot of prejudism about the Latino experience in Latin America. We’ve allowed this border to fracture us, to separate us — we don’t share our stories. There’s also very little information about Latin America on this, the U.S. side of the border.

This film is an attempt to build a bridge between communities; to say, hey, we have much more things that connect us than separate us. And if we would think like Cesar Chavez said many times, if we understand that our strength is in our numbers, why are we not trying to connect? As a filmmaker, I would experience much more freedom if my natural market was those who share interest for the context I share interest for on both sides of the border, my work would be easier if my market weren’t only those in Mexico. It’s the same feeling I have when I’m in Mexico and I think about Latin America, my films don’t travel to Argentina or to Chile. We have to understand the powerful message behind Cesar Chavez’s Causa is that if change is going to come it’s because we’re gonna get involved. The first thing we have to do to get involved is that if something worries us, let’s get out and find who else thinks like us. Once we find those people, our voice will be heard because it’ll be a lot of us. We’re not alone here and we can’t just let indifference rule our lives. We have to be curious about what’s going on to our neighbors and that day will be very powerful.

Just like that my passion for my mission, that one I felt as a strong message that I had to pave a road to discover on my own, came rushing back to me. I can’t connect the bridge unless we truly understand how much we need to be united as a community of Latinos here. We all come from different backgrounds and got to this tierra for different reasons. Some have always been here, some just got here. Some can thrive, others will never get the chance. Some came by air, others by boat, through the river, but all with the same dreams. Being here, in this melting pot of a land, makes us one. We stop being Argentino, Mejicano, Salvadoreña, Peruana to become LATINOS. How beautiful is that?

I agree with Diego Luna when he shared with us:

I hope we stop thinking about frontiers and nationalities; I think that’s part of the past. Now we can be connected in a second with the world. I really hope we start thinking about those we share context with, those we have things in common. I wish Latin America would agree in the issues that we all share, that matter to all of us, and I wish we could work together. It’s not happening at the moment.

But we can make it happen right here, right now, and it is SO easy … en serio. What to do?

1. Make sure you go to the theaters the weekend of March 28th to watch Cesar Chavez. I’m serious about this. Opening weekend is THE most important measure of success for a film. And for this one we need to make a huge statement. So much that Diego kept telling us:

If people go to the theaters on March 28th to see Cesar Chavez, to get inspired by his story, to engage emotionally with the ride of these characters, they’re going to be sending a clear message to this country: our community needs to be celebrated in film, needs to be portrayed with the respect, complexity and cultural diversity that our community has. And if we achieve that and send that message, we’ll be in a different place very soon. As audiences we can’t complain that our stories are not being told, if when they are we’re not out there to support them.

Plus, the movie is fabulous. I already saw it, but I can’t give you my review on it yet until the embargo lifts on March 28th, but trust me… la quieres ver.

2. Sign this petition to make March 31st a NATIONAL Day of Service. Why? Because all kids in the U.S., regardless of ethnicity, need to know who Cesar Chavez was and the peaceful legacy he left for this country.

Will you join us on this mission to unite all Latinos de aquí y de allá?

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  1. says

    I am looking forward to supporting the Cesar Chavez movie. Since learning, in college, the environment farm workers labored in after fields of grapes were sprayed with pesticide, I never purchase or consume grapes again unless they are organic. Farm workers endure health problems, injustice and discrimination. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your amazing interview with Diego Luna! :-)

  2. says

    I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time & I was sad to not have gone to the premiere here in Austin during SXSW film fest, but we locals do not usually do events during festivals. I should have kicked myself out of the door and just lived through the crowds.
    I will be seeing it this weekend at the Galleria.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Your friend from LBC, lisa

  3. says

    What an awesome post. I am really looking forward to seeing this movie and learning more about Cesar Chavez’s life and also to teach my children more about this great leader. I really love what Diego Luna says about being connected no matter where we are and about the importance of portraying Latinos with respect.

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