Today in Washington, D.C., the White House hosted a screening of Participant Media's upcoming film Cesar Chavez for about 150 friends, fans, and followers of the Latino civil rights leader and his work. President Barack Obama gave remarks to the packed room, which included such dignitaries as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as well as Chavez director Diego Luna and actors America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson. The president said that Chavez's legacy is "part of what sustains" him and that he hopes the film "inspires us to keep fighting for the causes we believe in."
Obama went on to link the work Chavez started in the 1960s organizing farmworkers in California to today's battle over health care, fair wages, and immigration. "Change is hard. It doesn't happen easily," he said, but you need to put "your shoulder to the wheel and keep pushing—and eventually things change." As for immigration reform, "it's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. And I want it to happen now."
Viewers broke into applause several times during the screening, chanting "¡Sí se puede!" and giving the film a standing ovation.
The president of the United Farm Workers of America, Arturo Rodriguez, also connected the legacy of Chavez to labor issues that persist today, advocating for better pay for workers. "When people see this film, they will think differently," Rodriguez said, referring to the food that gets to their table and the course it takes from field to packinghouses to distribution centers to retailers. "We have a unique opportunity with this film to reach millions of people and help them learn about where their food comes from."
In addition to petitioning Obama to make Cesar Chavez's birthday, March 31, a national day of service, the social action campaign for the film focuses on supporting the Equitable Food Initiative, which aims to implement safe food practices, provide education and training to farmworkers, and give them a fair wage. Rodriguez and Dawson, who works with Voto Latino to empower young Latinos in the political process, encouraged all Americans to see the film and to use the legacy of Cesar Chavez to make change in their communities. Cesar Chavez debuts in theaters nationwide on March 28.
Watch the full speech from President Obama:
TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is involved in the production and marketing of Cesar Chavez.