Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution

Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution

Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution

Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution


In the summer of 1968 Peter Matthiessen met Cesar Chavez for the first time. They were the same age: forty-one. Matthiessen lived in New York City, while Chavez lived in the Central Valley farm town of Delano, where the grape strike was unfolding. This book is Matthiessen's panoramic yet finely detailed account of the three years he spent working and traveling with Chavez, including to Sal Si Puedes, the San Jose barrio where Chavez began his organizing. Matthiessen provides a candid look into the many sides of this enigmatic and charismatic leader who lived by the laws of nonviolence.

Sal Si Puedes is less reportage than living history. In its pages a whole era comes alive: the Chicano, Black Power, and antiwar movements; the browning of the labor movement; Chavez's fasts; the nationwide boycott of California grapes. When Chavez died in 1993, tens of thousands gathered at his funeral. It was a clear sign of how beloved he was and how important his life had been.

A new foreword by Marc Grossman considers the significance of Chavez's legacy for our time. As well as serving as an indispensable guide to the 1960s, this book rejuvenates the extraordinary vitality of Chavez's life and spirit, giving his message a renewed and much-needed urgency.


One Sunday of August 1968, I knocked on the door of a small frame house on Kensington Street in Delano, California. It was just before seven in the morning, and the response to the knock was the tense, suspenseful silence of a household which, in recent months, had installed an unlisted telephone, not as a convenience, but to call the outside world in case of trouble. After a moment the house breathed again, as if I had been identified through the drawn shutters, but no one came to the door, and so I sat down on the stoop and tuned in to a mockingbird. the stoop is shaded by squat trees, which distinguish Kensington Street from the other straight lines of one-story bungalows that comprise residential Delano, but at seven, the air was already hot and still, as it is almost every day of summer in the San Joaquin Valley.

Cesar Chavez’s house—or rather, the house inhabited by Cesar Chavez, whose worldly possessions, scraped together, would scarcely be worth the $50 that his farm workers union pays for him in monthly rent—has been threatened so often by his enemies that it would be foolish to set down its street number. But on Kensington Street, a quiet stronghold of the American Way of Life, the house draws attention to itself by its very lack of material aspira-

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