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Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4.2 (2001) 344-346

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Book Review

The Rhetorical Career of César Chávez

The Rhetorical Career of César Chávez. By John C. Hammerback and Richard J. Jensen. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998; pp. viii + 241. $39.95.

César Chávez was a pivotal figure in both the Mexican American community and the larger U.S. society. Hammerback and Jensen's book is a biographical study focusing on the rhetorical aspect of Chávez's speaking career. Through an array of Chávez's speeches and interviews, Hammerback and Jensen present a rich history of Chávez and his masterful art of persuasion.

Hammerback and Jensen begin the book with a history of Chávez' early years--the loss of his family's farm and their move to migrant work in Arizona and California--as well as his introduction to the Community Services Organization (CSO), where he was first introduced to those who taught him about organizing. In chapter two, the authors use many of Chávez's own words to narrate his understanding of public address. Within this chapter it is abundantly clear that Chávez's Mexican heritage heavily influenced his style of speaking. Hammerback and Jensen argue that Chávez knew he "would need to appeal to (Mexican) rhetorical legacy and cultural heritage to be effective rhetorically" (26). Chávez did this through the use of red and black for the United Farm Workers (UFW) flag, invocation of the Mexican Revolution, and his use of dichos (colloquialisms) within his speeches and writings. [End Page 344]

In chapter three, the authors present the framework of their analysis of Chávez's works, drawing primarily upon the concept of reconstitutive rhetoric, which views "identification rather than persuasion as rhetoric's end" (45). This chapter clearly outlines the tenets of reconstitutive rhetoric, setting the stage for the analysis of how Chávez was able to "rhetorically change the character, and hence the behavior of (his) followers" (58). Chapter four covers the years from 1963 to 1970, when Chávez formed and strengthened the National Farm Workers Association (NWFA) that eventually came to be named the United Farm Workers. Chapters five through eight address the gradual decline of the movement through the 1980s and 1990s.

Hammerback and Jensen have done extensive work in looking at Chávez's life through a rhetorical lens. Their "Ethnic Heritage as Rhetorical Legacy: The Plan of Delano" is only one of many pieces these researchers have accomplished that look at Chávez as rhetor. The Rhetorical Career of César Chávez is the capstone of a rich scholarly history examining this powerful and important rhetor. The authors' sensitivity to and understanding of the Mexican American culture is evident through the spotlight they put on the cultural implications and expectations tacitly woven throughout Chávez' rhetorical career. While Hammerback and Jensen are both white middle-class men, it is evident that they have dedicated much time to researching the culture in which Chávez grew up. While it is certain that, with their background, Hammerback and Jensen have a perspective that may well be different from one who grew up in the Mexican American culture or one who lived and worked with Chávez, it is evident that the perspective these authors hold is insightful, showing the careful and caring research that went into this (and other) projects.

Certainly the strength of this work is the authors' use of Chávez's own words to tell his own history. Through masterful craftsmanship, Hammerback and Jensen use parts of Chávez's speeches and interviews to allow Chávez to speak for them, weaving his way through his own history, explaining his own thoughts, dichos, and personal understandings of the art of persuasion. However, from a critical perspective this carefully crafted writing may also hide the powerful position of the authors. While reading this work, it is very easy to forget that it is not Chávez who is speaking to the reader, but the authors...


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