LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — There are schools, streets, parks and now even a national monument named after Cesar Chavez.
But while most of us know about his legacy as the co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, his personal story has never been chronicled on the big screen – until now.
Chavez’s youngest son, Paul Chavez, is preparing for this weekend’s release of the first major motion picture ever about the civil rights icon.
The film, “Cesar Chavez”, looks at a critical period in Chavez’s life, including the grape boycott, which he started to bring national attention to the deplorable working conditions of farm workers.
“My father’s story – really it’s a story about an ordinary person doing extraordinary things,” Paul Chavez told CBS2’s Sylvia Lopez.
“I learned at early age that we were going to have to share my father with folks.”
Chavez’s birthday – March 31st – is already a state holiday in California. The Cesar Chavez Foundation has also launched a drive for that day to be recognized as a National Day of Service when Americans become involved in local service activities.
But while to most Cesar Chavez is a larger-than-life icon, to Paul Chavez, he was “dad” – in many ways a typical American of his time.
“The music that him and my mom listened to growing up was big band music. Benny Goodman would come on and he and my mom would hit the dance floor. They really were American,” Paul said.
What may strike many viewers in the film is Chavez’s personal struggles and his duties as a husband and father-of-eight.
“The letter that my older brother is reading from my father explains his motivations and tells him that, you know, I hope you understand the sacrifices that I made were because I love you,” Paul recalled of one emotional moment in the film.
Last week, “Cesar Chavez” was screened at the White House, where President Obama, who used Chavez’s trademark “Si, se puede” as his 2008 campaign slogan, talked about the inspiration he drew from the man who was, after all, a community organizer.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing a chronicled life of one of my heroes and one of the people who inspired me to get into the work that I’ve gotten into,” Obama said.
Paul believes his father would be proud of his sons’ work on the project.
“First of all he would probably scold us for all of this commotion,” he laughed. “But I have a feeling that if he did see it, he would give a nodding wink of approval.”
The “Cesar Chavez” feature will precede the release of a documentary called “Cesar’s Last Fast”, which includes never-before-seen archival footage of the hunger strike of ’88. That film is scheduled for limited release next month.
While he knows younger generations may not be as familiar with his father’s extraordinary accomplishments, Paul thinks both films might change that.
“Our hope is that people will be inspired by his life and work to go out and improve their communities,” he said.
“The timing couldn’t be better. There are issues like immigration that are dividing communities and I think that my father’s message of fairness is a message that needs to be told now,” Paul said.