Michael Peña’s parents both worked as campesinos, farmworkers, before they emigrated to the United States from Mexico.
“They came to America to escape that, because they weren’t getting paid,” said the actor, who plays the leading role in Cesar Chavez. “I think that’s what happens with Chavez. The only thing he wanted to do was make it fair. And it was a huge struggle to make it fair.”
That struggle—from the labor strikes to the grape boycott to the hunger strike—provides the drama of the new film, which opened last week, but playing characters so deeply involved in this civil rights movement left the actors with plenty to think about after the production wrapped.
While Peña points out that the 11 million people working to feed this country “don’t have the minimum rights that everyone deserves,” America Ferrera, who plays Helen Chavez, says that the movie is bigger than the fight for farmworkers’ rights.
“I think that ultimately this film isn't about grapes, and it isn’t about farmworkers—it’s about social justice,” she says. “Yes, the faces are brown and they’re Mexican farmworkers, but ultimately it's about all of us.”