So, you know about Cesar Chavez but what do you know about Mr. Chavez and his ties to the San Fernando Valley? Local filmmaker Miguel Duran helps us bridge that gap with his 2014 documentary “The Valley in the Struggle.”
Watch the full doc below and see what Miguel had to say about the civil rights activist and Cesar Chavez’s legacy in San Fernando.
What led you to create a documentary about Cesar Chavez?
Growing up in the communities of San Fernando and Pacoima, I saw images and heard stories about Cesar Chavez. In our community, we have murals, schools, statues and, at one point, we had a park named after Chavez. So, when I was approached to direct a short documentary about Chavez, I jumped at the opportunity to not only tell a riveting and colorful story but to learn about this great man and the thousands of people who participated in the pursuit for farm worker justice.
Community member Alex Reza and the nonprofit Pueblo Y Salud wanted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Cesar Chavez Memorial located in San Fernando. I was brought on board to see if I could come up with ideas. After several conversations, we agreed that producing a short documentary would be ideal because it’s the right length (30 minutes) to present in a classroom and still allows for a discussion afterwards. I was excited to share an amazing David-and-Goliath-type story with the current generation.
Why did you decide to focus on the Valley’s particular connection to Cesar and the farm worker movement?
When I came on board to direct the project, the initial idea was to focus solely on the Cesar Chavez Memorial and maybe talk about some of the events that appear in the mural. But after several conversations with community members and my own research, I decided that the documentary would be more intriguing if we could witness the connection that we, the community of the northeast San Fernando Valley, have with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmer Workers (UFW), if we had any connection at all.
Sure enough, we have a huge connection with Chavez and the UFW. During the ’50s and ’60s, Mexican families would migrate north to pick fruits and vegetables; they’d experience the injustices and long hours suffered during field work. When the UFW put the word out that they wanted to unionize and were seeking fair treatment of farm workers, the San Fernando community rose up in solidarity because they knew that Chavez and the UFW were fighting for a just cause.
Moreover, I think it’s important for our young generation to know about their past — that our communities in the northeast Valley have actively participated in American history and it’s up to us to promote our victories and continue making history.
Why should Chicanos and Valley residents remember Cesar’s legacy?
It’s important that we continue Cesar’s legacy because, like the rest of us, he was just a regular person trying to better his life and his family’s. But unlike the rest of us, he sacrificed himself and his family for the betterment of his people. He became the change he wanted to see. He believed that in order to create real, tangible change, you needed to change yourself first before you convince anyone about anything. How can you ask someone to believe in a revolution if you don’t believe in it yourself?
Plus, Chavez lived a life of compassion and always helped his fellow brother and sister in whatever way he could. He preached that “we should not hate our enemies but love them.” That is hard to follow when you have an officer hitting you with a baton or spraying you with Mace, but Chavez did it. More than anything, he lived by example and I think that’s important for Chicanos and Valley residents to notice.
How can we apply Cesar’s lessons to today’s struggles in the northeast San Fernando Valley?
The proposed high-speed rail system is an issue that is affecting and will continue to affect our community if we don’t unite as a whole Valley. Big corporations have the power to pit communities against each other (working class vs. the more affluent), and it’s a terrible situation because the only one who wins [when we’re divided] is the corporation. But I’m happy to see the communities of San Fernando, Pacoima, Shadow Hills and others uniting against the proposed speed rail.
It’s important to remember Chavez was really good at creating alliances with different people and organizations, and we could definitely benefit from that lesson. Chavez and Dolores Huerta always talked about the bigger picture and fighting for human rights and dignity — not just union or farm worker issues but standing up for your rights and not letting a few rich folks control your life.
Our struggle with the high-speed rail is more than just a train problem; it’s a fight for respect and a united effort to let “the powers that be” know that we will not be pushed around or trampled over because we live in a working class community. We are a community of many and together there’s nothing we can’t achieve!
What have you been working on since you released “The Valley in the Struggle”?
I’ve been teaching a documentary filmmaking class at California State University, Northridge. It’s going pretty well.
I’m currently directing another documentary called “Underneath The Ink,” which explores the psychological reasons North Americans get tattoos. I’m really excited about this project because I personally love tattoos, and I find the stories behind the ink fascinating.
The only challenge is that I can’t capture everyone’s story, so I decided to conduct a study that anyone with a tattoo and Internet connection can be part of it. The study will be available next month at underneaththeink.com/tattoo-study. Once the study is complete, I will reveal the results in my documentary but will also share the findings via social media, television, radio and print. I’m hoping to create the largest tattoo study ever conducted in the U.S. So, if you have a tattoo, please participate!
How can people get in touch with you in case they’d like to screen the film or connect in the future?
Feature image courtesy of Miguel Duran