"Courageous." -Ilan Stavans, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez came from opposite sides of the tracks of race and class that still divide Americans. Both optimists, Kennedy and Chavez shared a common vision of equality. They united in the 1960s to crusade for the rights of migrant farm workers. Farm workers faded from public consciousness following Kennedy's assassination and Chavez's early passing. Yet the work of Kennedy and Chavez continues to reverberate in America today. Bender chronicles their warm friendship and embraces their bold political vision for making the American dream a reality for all. Although many books discuss Kennedy or Chavez individually, this is the first book to capture their multifaceted relationship and its relevance to mainstream U.S. politics and Latino/a politics today. Bender examines their shared legacy and its continuing influence on political issues including immigration, education, war, poverty, and religion. Mapping a new political path for Mexican Americans and the poor of all backgrounds, this book argues that there is still time to prove Kennedy and Chavez right.
“Bender frames his history of American Latino political participation within a study of the friendship of Robert Kennedy and César Chávez, who first met during JFK's presidential campaign. RKF oversaw outreach to Latinos, while Chávez headed the largest voter registration organization in California. Later, Chávez turned to rural union organizing of immigrant agricultural workers and called for help from RFK, who backed their 1966 strike. His backing of Chávez and the union, their shared belief in nonviolent activism, and their commitment to Catholic teachings on the poor created a bond between the son of Irish wealth and the Mexican farm worker. In turn, Chávez and the United Farm Workers Union worked to help RFK win the 1968 California primary from which Bender dates the decline of Chávez's union. After RKF's assassination, union political enthusiasm waned, and President Nixon sought to undermine the Farm Workers legally and economically. In the face of the anti-immigrant movement that began in 2006 and some anti-Hispanic vitriol from 2008 GOP candidates, Bender issues a plea for a revival of the RFK-Chávez concern for the dignity and well-being of the poor. He conveys both the fact and the emotion of the Latino dream for uplift, as shared by Chávez and RFK.”
“The reverberations of a single night—June 4th, 1968—continue to be felt in Mexican American politics. Insinuating an alternative, brighter path to that tragic history, one in which Bobby and César cemented their friendship, a path where disillusionment gives way to enthusiasm, is the courageous purposes of this book. Viva Bender!”
—Ilan Stavans, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language
“[Robert Kennedy] came to us and asked two questions…. ‘What do you want? And how can I help?” That’s why we loved him.’”
“I think that [Robert Kennedy and César Chávez] were kindred spirits before they met. They both recognized in the other the same values and the same hope for the country and hope for the [underprivileged].”
Part I: A Friendship Cut Short Chapter 1: Viva (John) Kennedy Chapter 2: Viva la Huelga Chapter 3: Cesar's Fast and Deeds of Love Chapter 4: Viva (Bobby) Kennedy Chapter 5: One Night in America Part II: The Dream of Dignity Survives Chapter 6: Aftermath Chapter 7: Viva la Causa: Rural Latinos and the Farm Worker Movement Chapter 8: Viva la Raza: Urban Latinos and the Chicano Movement Chapter 9: Vietnam and Mexican Americans: Patriotism and Protest Chapter 10: Latinos and Poverty Chapter 11: Immigration: Walls and Wages Part III: Lessons from 1968: Latino Politics Today Chapter 12: Latinos and National Politics Chapter 13: Mexican Americans and the Catholic Church Chapter 14: Mexican Americans and the Civil Rights Movement Chapter 15: Looking Ahead: The Future of the Democratic Party and Immigrant Reform Conclusion