Zuckerberg Group Hopes Chavez Movie Inspires Immigration Push

Actor Michael Pena (L) and director Diego Luna arrive at the premiere of Pantelion Films And Participant Medias Cesar Chavez at the Chinese Theatre on March 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

An advocacy group co-founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is using the story of labor organizer Cesar Chavez to help revive momentum behind an immigration overhaul in Congress.

The advocacy group FWD.us is teaming up with the United Farmworkers of America (UFW), which Chavez founded in the 1960s, to hold screenings of a new film about his life this week in four cities across the U.S.

Organizers said they hope the screenings show that a broad coalition from different backgrounds remains united behind an urging Congress to pass a major immigration overhaul. Such a stance could be necessary at a time when the push for legislation has become stalled and some activists have shifted their focus toward pressuring President Obama to act.

"[Chavez’s] story is such a powerful tool of organizing, bringing people together and humanizing this really important issue,” FWD.us founder and president Joe Green said in an interview.

Chavez had a complicated history with the issue of illegal immigration during 60s and 70s, but advocates have looked to his efforts on behalf of migrant farmworkers as a positive example for the modern-day campaign for reform.

UFW president Arturo Rodriguez said that he hopes those who see the film get “inspired to go out and do work on the issues that are very important to America,” including immigration.

“The majority of farm workers today are undocumented and don't have the same opportunities or the same rights as other workers here in this country,” he added.

President Obama spoke before a White House screening of the film last week, praising Chavez as an “American hero.” Other special viewings have already been held in California and Texas.

The groups will hold a panel discussion at a screening in San Francisco next Sunday featuring Rodriguez and other advocates. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been invited to attend, organizers from both groups said. Other showings will be held in Austin, Texas, Chicago and Miami.

Zuckerberg and Green helped found FWD.us last year to lobby for immigration reform on behalf of the tech industry. The group has long said it seeks not just changes that affect Silicon Valley, like more visas for highly skilled workers, but a sweeping overhaul that would touch every area of the system. FWD.us held a screening of undocumented activist Jose Antonio Vargas’ film “Documented” last August in San Francisco.

"They contacted us and asked if we were interested in working them,” said the UFW’s Rodriguez. “We very much believe in what they do, certainly the work they do within the high tech community. We thought it made a lot of sense to go out jointly and bring together people who might not otherwise see this film.”

Cesar Chavez features Michael Peña playing the title role and was directed by Diego Luna. It premieres on March 28.

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