Fields Of Courage
Author Susan Samuels Drake captures the heart and soul of the farm labor movement.
Thursday, April 15, 1999
He was a Latino born into a life of poverty, but eventually rose to become leader of the country''s most influential farm labor movement.
She was raised in a world of affluence in the town of Atherton, but eventually devoted her life to the struggle of California''s farmworkers.
In Fields Of Courage--Remembering Cesar Chavez & The People Whose Labor Feeds Us, author/poet Susan Samuels Drake tells the unique story of her 31-year friendship with United Farm Worker leader Cesar Chavez and her personal struggle on behalf of economic justice for farmworkers.
As much the story of one woman''s journey of commitment to a life beyond her own as it is a portrait of Chavez and the UFW, Fields Of Courage works both as biography and personal memoir.
In a series of profoundly observed and insightful prose poems, Drake provides an intimate portrait of the critical years in the UFW struggle. Drake not only captures the humanity behind the farmworker movement, but also strips away the aura that often surrounded Chavez to reveal the "touchable hero" underneath.
"As a man and leader, Cesar had the wonderful ability to make people feel they were the most important thing in the world," says Drake, who will be reading from her book Thursday evening at an author''s dinner sponsored by Thunderbird Books. "Even people we think of as major heroes or saints, they''re really just like us, just more diligent."
Drake, who joined the UFW in 1962 at the age of 24, and later became Chavez''s personal secretary, assembled Fields Of Courage from a 400-page narrative she had written about her experiences with the UFW, as well as numerous letters, journal entries and old photos.
As Drake herself acknowledges, the 68 poems in the book do in fact have the quality of documentary photographs in the vividness of their detail, and their distillation of people and events into timeless moments. She admits that in trying to create an objective portrait of Chavez and the UFW, the book became an effort to come to terms with her own feelings and experiences.
"I decided to use my take on Cesar to allow my feelings to come forward a lot," agrees Drake. I didn''t have much awareness [of the farmworkers], it was totally foreign. Their lives were so much richer than I had growing up, and the early poems talk about how the workers enveloped me. The real caring about people came when I was exposed to the workers myself."
Although her direct involvement with the UFW ended in 1973 when she was fired by Chavez, Drake admits that even though her feelings about Chavez are at times unresolved, she remains passionate and committed to the farmworkers'' cause.
"We pushed old buttons, positive and negative, with each other and had a closeness and fierceness that seemed like a family thing," reflects Drake.
"People are still touched by what''s going on," adds Drake of the UFW''s efforts to organize strawberry workers in Watsonville. "The problem is the workers in general are so exhausted with their survival that finding the time and energy to be active in the union is difficult. The polarization in Watsonville is so severe, I''m worried how it will turn out. I''m using activism in my speaking and realize how strongly I feel about what''s happening in Watsonville. I''m trying to foster communication, and the readings are becoming an organizing tool I had not anticipated." cw
Author''s dinner and reading with Susan Samuels Drake Thursday, April 15, 6pm. Tickets/$17.50. Thunderbird Books, The Barnyard, Carmel. 624-1803.