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Fronteras: Threats, Government Surveillance May Have Pushed César Chávez Over The Edge

Courtesy Fr. Juan Romero
From left to right: Fr. Luis Olivares, Dolores Huerta, César Chávez, and Fr. Juan Romero, East Los Angeles, picketing in support of farmworkers, late 1970s.";

The FBI surveilled Chicano activists and organizations as insurgents in the 1960s and 1970s, including César Chávez.

José Angel Gutiérrez is a founding member of theMexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), and a founding member and past president of theRaza Unida Party. He examined over 2,000 pages of FBI documents in Chávez’s file to better understand the FBI’s attempts to dismantle the Chicano Movement.

Chávez was accused of being a communist and was a target of government surveillance, as well as death threats and office bombings. All of these factors pushed the prominent labor organizer into a deep state of paranoia.

That feeling trickled into his inner circle, and he began to look for traitors within his own ranks. He fired his legal team, moved the United Farm Workers headquarters from Delano, CA to an isolated compound he called La Paz, and forced the remaining staff to play “The Game” — a so-called therapeutic tool that employed truth-telling sessions in which participants expose each other’s innermost weaknesses.

Gutiérrez — an activist, author and a target of FBI surveillance himself — writes about this in his 2019 book, “The Eagle Has Eyes: The FBI Surveillance of César Estrada Chávez of the United Farm Workers Union of America, 1965-1975.”

Gutiérrez spent thousands of dollars to gather the FBI documents about Chávez that span a 10-year period, from 1965 to 1975. He argues the labor movement and activists were natural targets for the federal government and Chávez’s downward spiral resulted in the loss of some of his most loyal followers.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter@NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter@terrazas_lauren.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren