One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, and the Dream of Dignity

Book Info

  • Length: 264 pages
  • Trim size: 6" x 9"

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  • ISBN: 978-1-59451-429-6
  • Publish date: January 2008
  • List Price: $38.95
  • Your Price: $33.11


  • ISBN: 978-1-59451-428-9
  • Publish date: December 2007
  • List Price: $163.00
  • Your Price: $138.55


Winner of the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction at the 2008 Oregon Book Awards. See link below for more information!

Robert Kennedy and César Chávez came from opposite sides of the tracks of race and class that still divide Americans. Both optimists, Kennedy and Chávez shared a common vision of equality. They united in the 1960s to crusade for the rights of migrant farm workers. Farm workers faded from public consciousness following Kennedy’s assassination and Chávez’s early passing. Yet the work of Kennedy and Chávez continues to reverberate in America today.
Bender chronicles their warm friendship and embraces their bold political vision for making the American dream a reality for all. While many books discuss Kennedy or Chávez individually, this is the first book to capture their multifaceted relationship and its relevance to mainstream U.S. politics and Latino/a politics today. Bender examines their shared legacy and its continuing influence on political issues including immigration, education, war, poverty, and religion. Mapping a new political path for Mexican Americans and the poor of all backgrounds, this book argues that there is still time to prove Kennedy and Chávez right.

Oregon Book Awards

  • Recalls a time when we stood on the verge of bridging racial and income gaps in America
  • Recalls a time when migrant farm workers weren’t invisible or vilified by the media as illegal aliens trying to hijack American values
  • Recalls a timeless friendship between two men of vastly different backgrounds with similar visions for a future of dignity for all Americans
  • Applies the lessons from the 1960s to understanding today’s critical issues of immigration, poverty, and politics
  • Addresses the past, present, and future of America’s largest minority group and its long-standing place in the American dream

Author Info

Steven Bender, James and Ilene Hershner Professor of Law at the University of Oregon School of Law, is the author of Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination (New York University Press, 2003).


“Bender frames his history of American Latino political participation within a study of the friendship of Robert Kennedy and César Chávez, who first met during JFK's presidential campaign. RKF oversaw outreach to Latinos, while Chávez headed the largest voter registration organization in California. Later, Chávez turned to rural union organizing of immigrant agricultural workers and called for help from RFK, who backed their 1966 strike. His backing of Chávez and the union, their shared belief in nonviolent activism, and their commitment to Catholic teachings on the poor created a bond between the son of Irish wealth and the Mexican farm worker. In turn, Chávez and the United Farm Workers Union worked to help RFK win the 1968 California primary from which Bender dates the decline of Chávez's union. After RKF's assassination, union political enthusiasm waned, and President Nixon sought to undermine the Farm Workers legally and economically. In the face of the anti-immigrant movement that began in 2006 and some anti-Hispanic vitriol from 2008 GOP candidates, Bender issues a plea for a revival of the RFK-Chávez concern for the dignity and well-being of the poor. He conveys both the fact and the emotion of the Latino dream for uplift, as shared by Chávez and RFK.”
Library Journal

“The reverberations of a single night—June 4th, 1968—continue to be felt in Mexican American politics. Insinuating an alternative, brighter path to that tragic history, one in which Bobby and César cemented their friendship, a path where disillusionment gives way to enthusiasm, is the courageous purposes of this book. Viva Bender!”
Ilan Stavans, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language

“[Robert Kennedy] came to us and asked two questions…. ‘What do you want? And how can I help?” That’s why we loved him.’”
Dolores Huerta

“I think that [Robert Kennedy and César Chávez] were kindred spirits before they met. They both recognized in the other the same values and the same hope for the country and hope for the [underprivileged].”
Ethel Kennedy


Part I: A Friendship Cut Short

Chapter 1: Viva (John) Kennedy

Chapter 2: Viva la Huelga

Chapter 3: Cesar's Fast and Deeds of Love

Chapter 4: Viva (Bobby) Kennedy

Chapter 5: One Night in America

Part II: The Dream of Dignity Survives

Chapter 6: Aftermath

Chapter 7: Viva la Causa: Rural Latinos and the Farm Worker Movement

Chapter 8: Viva la Raza: Urban Latinos and the Chicano Movement

Chapter 9: Vietnam and Mexican Americans: Patriotism and Protest

Chapter 10: Latinos and Poverty

Chapter 11: Immigration: Walls and Wages

Part III: Lessons from 1968: Latino Politics Today

Chapter 12: Latinos and National Politics

Chapter 13: Mexican Americans and the Catholic Church

Chapter 14: Mexican Americans and the Civil Rights Movement

Chapter 15: Looking Ahead: The Future of the Democratic Party and Immigrant Reform


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