Elegy on the Death of César Chavez by Rudolfo Anaya;
Cinco Puntos Press: El Paso, Texas, 2000; $16.95
I remember that my mother cried on the day César Chavez died. I was four years old but I remember that my whole family was sad. When I read Elegy on the Death of César Chavez last month, I understood why my mother cried. The book is a poem expressing the grieving of people when César Chavez died. It is twenty-six pages with collage illustrations by Gaspar Enriquez. The collages mix black and white and color pictures that make the reader remember the faces of the campesinos (farmworkers) and César Chavez. It’s short but it’s like a sad song that gets stuck in your head.
I am a sixth-grader at DePortola Middle School. I had to write a biography so I read about the life of César Chavez and did a biographical report on him. I read books on him, but those books were only about facts and chronologies. My history book just had a paragraph about him in it. I learned about the important things he did for farmworkers, but this book, Elegy on the Death of César Chavez, helped me understand how people felt about him—that “he lives in the hearts of those who loved him.”
I learned about the labor leader from my grandparents and my mother. My family worked in the fields and that is why he was important to my family. My grandfather showed me the short hoe he used to use when he worked in the fields. César Chavez made it against the law for workers to use the short hoes because it hurt their backs. The author described how César Chavez was the “guide across the fields of toil” and it made me remember how tired my grandfather looked when he came back from the fields because it was very hard work. In this book the author weaves some Spanish words into the poem like el lucero (bright star) and “across the land we heard las camparias doblando” (the bells tolling). It makes the poem stronger for people like me who are bilingual. It would have been good if the author had included the definitions for the Spanish words for readers who only understand English in the back of the book, like explaining that huelga means strike and the word campesino means farmworker. Younger readers will have to look up some of the English vocabulary in this book, but you can understand the words by the way they are used. After reading this book about Chavez I felt how people felt about him and how they felt about the world around them. Even if someone never heard of him before, this elegy would make him sad and feel that César Chavez was a hero.