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In the summer of 1968 Peter Matthiessen met Cesar Chavez for the first time. They were the same age: forty-one. Matthiessen lived in New York City, while Chavez lived in the Central Valley farm town of Delano, where the grape strike was unfolding. This book is Matthiessen’s panoramic yet finely detailed account of the three years he spent working and traveling with Chavez, including to Sal Si Puedes, the San Jose barrio where Chavez began his organizing. Matthiessen provides a candid look into the many sides of this enigmatic and charismatic leader who lived by the laws of nonviolence.
Sal Si Puedes is less reportage than living history. In its pages a whole era comes alive: the Chicano, Black Power, and antiwar movements; the browning of the labor movement; Chavez’s fasts; the nationwide boycott of California grapes. When Chavez died in 1993, tens of thousands gathered at his funeral. It was a clear sign of how beloved he was and how important his life had been.
A new foreword by Marc Grossman considers the significance of Chavez’s legacy for our time. As well as serving as an indispensable guide to the 1960s, this book rejuvenates the extraordinary vitality of Chavez’s life and spirit, giving his message a renewed and much-needed urgency.
Peter Matthiessen is a winner of the National Book Award and the American Book Award and is the author of over thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Snow Leopard (1978), At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965), Far Tortuga (1975), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1992), and Bone by Bone (1999). Chavez's longtime spokesman and personal aide Marc Grossman is currently Communications Director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
"Cesar Chavez is gracefully revealed by Peter Matthiessen as a curiously private public figure who is in love with people."—Chicago Tribune
"Reading this book becomes an act of self-confrontation, for Peter Matthiessen has made it clear that Cesar Chavez's battle is not only for the agricultural workers but for the redemption of the country. In illuminating the intactness of this one man, Matthiessen provides a measure for the rest of us."—Nat Hentoff
New Foreword writer, Marc Grossman (left), with Cesar Chavez in 1975. Grossman was Chavez's longtime press secretary, speechwriter and personal aide. He is currently Communications Director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation.