Reviews & News

"Shattered Dreams"  Dissent  "Groundbreaking and deeply moving," -- Jeffrey W. Rubin, Dissent, Spring 2010.
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"The most honest book yet written about the UFW. For anyone interested in this iconic union, this is indispensable reading." -- Michael D. Yates, May 2010, Monthly Review.
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"An unsettling look at key figures relegated to working in the labor icon's shadow, and how that situation came about. " Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 2009 By Richard Steven Street

It's hard to challenge a saint. And so, the story of the United Farm Workers union tends to start and stop with César Chávez, the audacious Mexican American who built the UFW. So great is his accomplishment and so dramatic his story that few writers have ventured beyond hagiography.

Accounts glow with a familiar refrain: Chávez patiently waiting for his chance, taking on the Delano table grape growers and emerging as an innovator who injected civil-rights tactics into the farmworker struggle, a modern Gandhi who induced 17 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, to stop eating grapes. Then, this living saint died in his sleep, apparently worn out by his nonstop schedule. His brother, Richard, built a plain pine coffin. Ten thousand people came to Delano and carried Chávez's body for three miles across town.

Today we acknowledge the man and his accomplishment by sanctifying his name on countless schools, buildings and street signs.

And yet Chávez did not act alone. The movement he built was populated by an eclectic agglomeration of people who left the fields, classrooms, courts and churches to become organizers and activists in one of the most unique collaborations in California history.

In "The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement," Miriam Pawel shifts the perspective away from Chávez to highlight eight second-level members of the UFW: Jessica Govea, daughter of a cotton picker who became a member of the union executive board; Jerry Cohen, a young lawyer who ran the UFW legal department; Eliseo Medina, a shy teenage field hand from Zacatecas, Mexico, who rose to become heir apparent to Chávez; Chris Hartmire, a Presbyterian minister who risked life and limb while transforming the California Migrant Ministry into an adjunct of Chávez's union; Sabino Lopez, an irrigator from Jalisco, Mexico, who led a grass-roots revolt within the UFW; Ellen Eggers, an idealistic college student who organized the union's boycott activities; Gretchen Laue, a free spirit looking for meaning; and Sandy Nathan, a Columbia University-trained lawyer writing legal briefs by hand while stuck in a Coachella Valley hole in the wall.
Read the full Los Angeles Times Review
"The Union Of Their Dreams" San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 11, 2009 by: Eric Brazil
In the 47 years since Cesar Chavez began working out his vision of organizing American farmworkers, his creation, the United Farm Workers Union, has been good at keeping its secrets. Loyalty to "La Causa" and to the memory of its iron-willed, iconic founder has muffled internal complaints.
A long shelf of books, many bordering on hagiography, has told the union's story just as Chavez wanted it told. "The Union of Their Dreams" is an astringent corrective to the party line.
Read the full Review in SFGate
"Re-evaluating the Legacy of Cesar Chavez"  La Opinion  
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"Saint Cesar of Delano"   Wilson Quarterly   by: Richard Rodriguez
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"La corrupcion de Cesar Chavez"   El Diario,   by: Ilan Stavans
A thoughtful essay about The Union of Their Dreams in El Diario, the oldest Spanish-language daily paper in the country. Ilan Stavans, the distinguished critic, author and academic, laments the lack of attention in the Northeast and the propensity of the “intelligentsia” to define the civil rights movement as a black-and-white struggle – ignoring the Latino struggles that Cesar Chavez was so much a part of.
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"Sueños y Pesadillas",   by: Eduardo Stanley
Eduardo Stanley headlines his story "Dreams and Nightmares" and writes about "the untold history of the UFW,'' intervewing several protagonists from "The Union of Their Dreams," who talk about what la causa meant for them. His story ran in and in the Spanish-language papers in Visalia, Stockton, Salinas and San Diego.
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Radio Interview   Capitol Radio's Insight   by: Jeffrey Callison
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"Separating Man from Cause,"  a review in Dave Eggers' newspaper,  Panorama,  by: Peter Orner
"Pawel's book provideds a kind of a blueprint for today's activists. It is a chronicle of great struggle, but also of hope,'' writes Peter Orner.
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Marc Cooper on the Fate of Cesar Chavez's Dream Truthdig, Nov. 13, 2009 by: Marc Cooper

In her important new book, Miriam Pawel chronicles how a movement to unionize farmworkers failed to realize its charismatic founder’s vision as his relatives turned a union into a family business.
Read the full Truthdig Review
Review: "The Union of Their Dreams" San Antonio Express-News, Nov. 1, 2009 by: Elaine Ayala

Those who supported the United Farm Workers — who boycotted grapes and lettuce on its behalf and mythologized the man who built the union — might wonder what happened to the organization, after all these years.

The short answer is the union ultimately proved unsuccessful. U.S. farm workers — largely undocumented, unrepresented and vulnerable — toil in similar conditions to those who joined the union during the peak of Cesar Chavez's leadership.

In her new book "The Union of Their Dreams," author Miriam Pawel attempts to answer that question from the perspectives of eight people — lawyers, students, clergy and farm workers — who were there alongside its charismatic leader.

Instead of being glorified, Chavez is remembered in ways some readers may not be ready to hear.
Read the full San Antonio Express-News Review
WAMC Roundtable WAMC Northeast Public Radio Nov. 5, 2009

Joe speaks with journalist, Miriam Pawel about her book, The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement.
Listen to WAMC New York interview with Joe Donahue
" Adult books recommended for high school students" School Library Journal, Nov. 1, 2009

In the book Pawel has no problem with the idolization of Chavez as a community/worker organizer. What he accomplished, and how he accomplished it, was truly phenomenal. However, his genius for leading a movement did not extend to managing a union. The charismatic, driven, and exceptionally devoted Chavez was better at getting things going than keeping them on track. The author examines the inspirational rise, wobbly tenure, and ultimate decline and fall of the United Farm Workers movement. She focuses not so much on the leader, but on eight others who were essential to whatever success the movement enjoyed. And the UFW may have seen far greater and sustained success if these voices had not been ignored and/or silenced. Pawel combines document research with recent interviews with several former directors, legal staff, and rank and file, allowing her to present a thorough and convincing treatment of an important chapter in American history.
"Cesar Chavez and The Union of Their Dreams" AirTalk on KPPC: Southern California Public Radio, Oct. 26, 2009 - a radio interview

In the book "The Union of Their Dreams," Miriam Pawel describes the rise of the United Farm Workers under its charismatic leader, Cesar Chávez. Pawel details how the farm workers made the first successful attempt to unionize in the United States and trained a new generation of activists. She also traces the eventual fall of the union, as Chávez struggled to maintain control of the organization. Miriam Pawel joins Larry Mantle to discuss the legacy of the United Farm Workers movement.
Listen to Larry Mantle's interview with Miriam
"A provocative new book about the United Farm Workers separates romantic myths from harsh realities. " Monterey County Weekly, Oct. 22, 2009 By Paul Wilner

Everyone loves heroes, and the story of Cesar Chavez, and his successful efforts to take on growers and build the United Farm Workers Union, has become part of our national history.

Chavez’s cause was taken on by everyone from Bobby Kennedy to the then-youthful Jerry Brown. So it follows that veteran Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Miriam Pawel made few friends when she decided to take a look at the story behind the story – first, in a controversial series of articles for the newspaper and now, in her new book: The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement.
Read the full Monterey County Weekly Article
"Cesar Chavez and the Grapes of Wrath" Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2009 By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

Miriam Pawel examines the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers leader in her new book, "The Union of Their Dreams"
In "The Union of Their Dreams," Miriam Pawel makes a nuanced appraisal of the late Cesar Chavez, the union leader who helped create what became the United Farm Workers. Ms. Pawel recounts the rise and fall of the UFW through the eyes of eight people who committed themselves to the struggle. Later, they would be pushed aside by Mr. Chavez, who feared losing control. The drumming-out of loyalists conjures up images of Russia's Communist Party exiling true believers in the late 1930s. Read the full Q&A on
The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement Publishers Weekly, Nov. 2, 2009

In this historical reevaluation of the Cesar Chávez and the United Farm Workers, Pawel keeps the narrative bouncing between alternating and key figures like Eliseo Medina, an early recruit turned organizer; Chris Hartmine, a protestant activist minister ; and Ellen Egger, an intern who stayed for the long haul. This technique allows Pawel to convey the complexity of a movement often identified with a single man. Steeped in the recordings and primary source materials from these years, Pawel recreates the era—but with an awareness of the ironies and contradictions made plainer by hindsight. While noting Chávez’s instrumental charisma, she also records heretofore cloaked internal conflicts among disgruntled union leaders chafing under Chávez’s strict concept of sacrifice, his social conservatism and his adamant hold on power, which in the 1970s led to damaging purges of leaders he accused of disloyalty . The book’s unexpected scar tissue and its arc of decline present some contrast to the continuing if dispersed legacy trumpeted in Randy Shaw’s recent Beyond the Fields, but these accounts are ultimately complementary and necessary historical revaluations of this important labor and social history.

Kirkus Reviews

“The inside story of the first successful attempt to unionize farmworkers in the United States.

In the early 1960s, workers in America ’s vineyards and lettuce fields lacked basic protections and rights, writes former Newsday and Los Angeles Times reporter and editor Pawel. Earning about $2,500 per year, they worked without drinking water or bathrooms, were often cheated out of wages and lacked unemployment and health insurance. In this extensively researched history of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the author focuses on a handful of men and women who joined la causa of the charismatic César Chávez (1927–1993), taking part in strikes and boycotts to win bargaining agreements. Pawel deftly weaves their stories into a narrative of three turbulent decades of protest against California growers and the U.S. supermarket chains that sold their produce. The principals include teenage farmworker Eliseo Medina, who joined the nascent union movement in 1965 and eventually became a leader; Chris Hartmire , a former East Harlem youth minister who acted as a propagandist in what he deemed to be a moral crusade for the poor; and Ellen Eggers, a naïve young college graduate from Indiana, who went from “ignorance to outrage” in her work as a boycott coordinator. These deeply engaged workers and middle-class youths were among thousands who received $5 per week plus room and board as volunteer foot soldiers in a crusade that convinced 17 million Americans to stop eating grapes. Recounting strategizing sessions, dealmaking and internal squabbles, Pawel shows how the movement grew and won legitimacy as a union. The iconic Chávez is seen as a micromanager whose fasts and fervor galvanized others, but who could not tolerate internal dissent and failed ultimately to build a strong union. By 2005, the UFW had no contracts in the grape vineyards or the lettuce fields, but had “mastered the art of cashing in on Latino political power.” Meanwhile, a new generation of farmworkers toiled at minimum wage.

A revealing celebration of activists in the glory days of a movement for change."


Advance Praise for “The Union of Their Dreams”

“In this sympathetic yet courageously honest narrative, a seasoned reporter presents the history behind the legend of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Movement. At the same time, Miriam Pawel pays tribute to the dreams of a generation of young Americans dedicated to social justice and the dignity of labor.”

- Kevin Starr, University of Southern California, author of Golden Dreams and California: A History

“This incisive and sensitive study makes a major contribution to our understanding of Cesar Chavez and the poor people’s movement he led. Moving beyond hagiography and mythology, Miriam Pawel gives new insight into the heroic struggles of some of the ordinary people who committed themselves, against unimaginable odds, to an extraordinary cause. Using an innovative approach based on exhaustive archival research, deeply illuminating oral history interviews, and keen historical judgment, Pawel puts a human face on the triumphs and failures, the tactical successes and setbacks, long-running internal struggles over leadership and direction, and above all, the tremendous courage and dignity of those who toiled in one of the most important social movements of the twentieth century.”

- David G. Gutiérrez, University of California, San Diego

“Anyone interested in political idealism, trade unions, leadership, mass movements, and even the Barack Obama phenomenon will have much to think about after reading this enthralling account of great accomplishment gained and lost.”

- Nicholas von Hoffman, author of Hoax and Citizen Cohn

“Avoiding polemic or sensationalism, The Union of Their Dreams recounts for the first time how a cult of personality around Cesar Chavez (influenced by the practices of the sinister Synanon organization) ultimately betrayed the courage of the workers in the fields and the trust of a veteran organizing staff. The stories of lost campaigns and internal purges are painful, but they also transmit hugely important lessons about the necessary dialectic of militancy and democracy in labor struggles.”

– Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz.

“Miriam Pawel combines the skills of an historian and an investigative reporter to tell the story of the remarkable people upon whose dreams the farm worker movement was established, moved forward, and forever changed the nation.”

-William Deverell, Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

The Union of Their Dreams captures in fascinating detail the human stories of diverse people and how they committed themselves to the movement. It also reveals the tensions and dissensions that were a part of the union and its leadership after the early years of its formation. This is an interesting and provocative book that expands our understanding of the union from inside out.”

—Albert M. Camarillo, Stanford University



Los Menos

“Chavez decided the time had come to pursue his dream of communal farms. He envisioned the farms as havens for poor people, a resource for the union, and a refuge for loyal supporters. He wanted a strong religious element and thought perhaps the collectives could be run by a new religious order. He had picked Oxnard as the first farm, with its fertile soil and year-round season. He had the perfect director for the endeavor, Chris. And a name for the new order: Los Menos. The Least. He took the name from the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew: “In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

Chavez had a long-standing interest in cooperatives for the poor. Real community would be vital, Chavez said, to keep people involved and avoid the fate of the faltering civil rights and labor movements. He read voraciously and studied the mistakes of the past. He had been exploring economic cooperatives since 1970, when he described his position as comparable to where he had been in terms of the union in 1965: “I was just talking about ideas and what could be done and a lot of people thought I was nuts.”

Six years later, with the state law imposing a welter of rules that held little interest for Chavez, he saw community as the future of his movement. He kept the plans from his own board, which would have been as skeptical as his friends in the labor movement.”

Excerpt from The Union of Their Dreams