Originally published in 1969, Peter Matthiessen’s Sal Si Puedes provided a detailed account of the three years he spent working and traveling with Cesar Chavez. It was a candid look into an enigmatic and now legendary labor organizer who changed agricultural work in the United States forever. In 2014 we published an updated edition with a new foreword by Marc Grossman, Cesar Chavez’s longtime spokesman and personal aide. Below we offer an except of this foreword.
The call still haunts me. I was in my Sacramento office shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday, April 23, 1993. Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s middle son and one of eight siblings, was on the phone. “I’ve got some bad news,” he said, his voice crackling. “My dad has died.”
Paul was calling from La Paz, the farm worker movement headquarters at the Tehachapi Mountain hamlet of Keene, east of Bakersfield, just after hearing the news from union staff. They had discovered Cesar’s body when the United Farm Workers president had failed to awake in his room at the San Luis, Arizona, farm worker home where they were staying.
I’d known Cesar for twenty-four years, since beginning as a volunteer grape boycotter in 1969 while an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine—and had served as his longtime press secretary, speechwriter, and personal aide.
Peter Matthiessen’s beautiful portrait of Cesar Chavez deepened my commitment when it first appeared later that year, and it is just as compelling four and a half decades later. My task here is to offer insights gleaned since Sal Si Puedes was initially published and bring readers up to date through Cesar’s passing in 1993, and beyond.
You can order Sal Si Puedes on our website or wherever books are sold.
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.