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To the Editor:

May 18, 1997

As the authors of "The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement," we were pleased that Ruben Navarette called our book important, colorful and engaging. We appreciate his close reading and review (Book Review, April 13).

We were confounded, however, by his assertion that we glossed over criticisms of Chavez and the union. In fact, the book devotes nearly two whole chapters to such issues. Of the many criticisms of Chavez and the union that Navarette brings up--the flirtation with Synanon, the drift toward an autocratic leadership, widespread dissent within the ranks and the mistreatment of undocumented workers in Arizona--all these and more are discussed in detail in the book.

Far from ignoring the "moral ambiguities" of the times, the book amply documents the shadowy side of UFW history that Navarette says it overlooks. We interviewed many dissident former union organizers like Marshall Ganz, who explained that in the 1980s, "There was no space within the union to be in opposition and still be in the union." But we put these criticisms and grievous losses in context of the times, including an increasingly anti-union California administration that failed to enforce the hard-won law guaranteeing farm workers the right to unionize. It seems important, too, to note that Ganz and the majority of other dissident former staffers (many of whom freely criticized Chavez and the UFW) still express great respect for him and the union.

The reviewer also charges that we portrayed farmers and farm workers as villains and heroes, respectively. As former agribusiness reporters, we covered farmers regularly and have never held this one-sided view, nor did Cesar Chavez. As we quote Chavez saying, "Anyone who comes in with the idea that farm workers are free of sin and that growers are all bastards either has never dealt with the situation or is an idealist. . . . Things don't work that way." Most of the criticisms of farmers--including the charge that racism against Mexicans hindered ranchers' acceptance of the farm workers union--come from farmers themselves, their children or other agribusiness insiders. On the other hand, farmers are interviewed about their strong criticisms of the union and, as the book says, some union members, including Chavez's brother Richard, acknowledged certain complaints as just, at least those concerning the early UFW's disorganization and inexperience with hiring halls.

As to the reviewer's wish that we had written about the prejudice and discrimination faced by immigrant farmers, we can only respond that that is another book. Books on the civil rights movement, for example, don't generally dwell on the bigotry faced by the Irish immigrants who colonized much of the deep South and some of whose descendants, in the 1960s, were among those who staunchly defended segregation.

Susan Ferriss, Ricardo Sandoval, San Francisco

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