The Union of Their Dreams by Miriam Pawel is a unique if troubling look at the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union under the direct leadership of the late Cesar Chavez. It is troubling because it is a tale told from the perspective of “disaffected former staff”, to use Chavez’s own words. In addition to detailing the history of the UFW, the book focuses on the purges of early members/followers from the UFW, prior to Chavez’s death in 1993.
Perhaps this is the first attempt to demythologize a man correctly described in the book as “a world-famous icon.” If so, the reader should keep in mind that this is but one version of the events that occurred. A farm worker states in the book, “…we (need to) also listen to another interpretation of events.” We hear little from two key UFW figures in the book, Delores Huerta of Stockton – a woman who appeared on stage with Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles on the night he was assassinated – and Gilbert Padilla; although Padilla is finally forced to leave the UFW.
Pawel has clearly advanced the record on the UFW’s achievements and failings. But it will likely be decades before a balanced and comprehensive view of Chavez’s life, legend and leadership is told.
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.