This Chicano Photographer Told Us Why Cesar Chavez Has Left A Lasting Impression With Latinos
George Rodriguez has been a photographer documenting life in Los Angeles for decades. It was in 1969 when he was first assigned to go to Delano, Calif. as a freelance photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times. There he documented the Labor Movement and the Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Rodriguez sat down with mitú to talk about his time documenting and photographing Chavez, and what it meant to him to be close to that movement.
This is photographer George Rodriguez and he has been pivotal in capturing Chicano history in California.
Rodriguez used to work for a magazine called West that was owned by the LA Times. One of his assignments in 1969 was to travel to Delano, Calif. to document the Labor Movement and the Farm Workers Union led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
“I was lucky that I was assigned to shoot [the movement],” Rodriguez told mitú.
“I don’t know how long the grape boycott had been in effect but it had been going on,” Rodriguez, who is holding a picture of himself and Chavez above, continued. “I was just looking forward to that because you hear [about] people, they’re out there and the name I was hearing was Cesar Chavez and so you become a part of it.”
One of the memories Rodriguez has of Chavez is his reaction to meeting someone whose last name was Rodriguez and worked for the LA Times.
“Eventually I got to meet Cesar and I remember our first conversation,” Rodriguez recalled to mitú. “He said something about being surprised that someone named Rodriguez would be coming from the LA Times.”
But it was Chavez’s true commitment to the cause the left an impression on Rodriguez.
Rodriguez told mitú that he could tell that Chavez was never in the movement for himself. As Rodriguez recalls, he was pretty selfless with his time working with the union and the Labor Movement and was only concerned with the betterment of the people impacted by the benefits of the union’s work.
Even though Chavez was almost exclusively involved with the Labor Movement, Rodriguez does think that his fame in the Latino community came from a lack of leadership during the time.
“He’s an idol,” Rodriguez told mitú about how Chavez is viewed by the Latino community. “I think it’s kind of tricky because, obviously, Cesar Chavez has got the most recognition, as he should. Be he didn’t necessarily only promote the Chicano Movement. He was head of working with the United Farm Workers and that’s what he did along with those other people up there. But, I think also that people attached to him because at that time there was such a lack of leadership.”
While Rodriguez was never part of the movement since he was there as a photojournalist, he has stayed in touch with the Chavez family all these years later.
“I’ve kept in contact with the Chavez family and because of it I’ve met and people became my friends, like Dolores Huerta, who is connected to the movement,” Rodriguez told mitú. “Once you’re around a movement like the United Farm Workers movement, and you’re out there taking photos you realize who your heroes are.”
And, to this day, Rodriguez will tell you that Cesar Chavez is still at the top of his list of people who impacted his life.
“People ask you about who makes an impression and who do you remember and he would, I think, be on the head of the list for me because you just feel something, you know,” Rodriguez told mitú about the lasting legacy of Chavez. “There’s something going on. It’s like a movement and you’re there and you’re so fortunate that you’re there.”