The FBI's dossier on Chávez was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which contains provisions that allowed the FBI to withhold portions of the documents from public view. Indeed, many parts—and in some cases, entire pages—have been excised from the files. Nevertheless, the collection provides a compelling window into the efforts of the farmworker movement, as well as the values and methods of the FBI itself.
This memo, dated October 8, 1965, marks the beginning of the FBI's surveillance and infiltration of the farmworker movement. The document indicates that in response to what largely amounted to rumor and unsubstantiated information about Chávez and his associates, the FBI opened an ongoing investigation of the farmworker movement that would last for nearly a decade.
In the memo, an informant for the bureau relays concern that the Office of Economic Opportunity, the agency responsible for directing President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty programs, had awarded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) a large grant that would go towards teaching citizenship and money management to migrant farm workers. The informant raises suspicions about Chávez, the NFWA's director, pointing out that the labor leader had worked for Saul Alinsky's Community Service Organization (CSO) and "possibly has a subversive background."
According to the FBI, the informant "was quite vague" about the information concerning Chávez but presented a confidential source who allegedly possessed a file containing details on Chávez's communist background. However, the memo noted that there was no record of Chávez with the House Un-American Activities Committee or the Civil Service Commission.
When the FBI contacted their source the following day, October 7, the informant noted "several other individuals,"—including NWFA secretary Dolores Huerta and Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) organizers Larry Itliong and Ben Gines—"who allegedly have subversive backgrounds." The informant had no specific information on any of the individuals named, other than someone had mentioned that a photo of Huerta had appeared in a recent issue of The Worker "or some other communist publication."
At the informant's request, the FBI turned to its files but found no records of the NFWA or any of the individuals listed; a check on back issues of The Worker turned up no photos of Huerta. Additionally, the memo shows that FBI agents initially confused Chávez with another person named César Chávez who voluntarily returned to Mexico after being picked up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for immigration violations. At the end of the memo, the FBI recommends that agents at the Los Angeles field office carry out further investigations on the previously named individuals and organizations for potential "subversive activities."