I am excited to share with you another great interview from my McFarland, USA press trip. It was such a great experience. These I was able have an interview with Jim White and the Diaz brothers (David Diaz, Damacio Diaz and Danny Diaz) who are the real life inspirations behind the McFarland, USA film. They are amazing guys who still have that humble hardworking attitude!
Do you feel like the movie does a good job of describing that culture (of family and pickers)?
DAMACIO DIAZ : Yeah, we’re very, very proud of the way the movie portrayed us, our family. We were raised in the field, it was our life. We started picking and hoeing and raking and doing everything you could possibly think of. We were about seven or eight years old when all that began. So for us, it was a way of life. Even some of us, after graduating college, like Danny, the day after he graduated from the university with the diploma, he was in the fields working, because that was, in our family, what was expected until he got hired and got his job. So, for us it was normal.
I wanna know is your mom really that way, because she was a scene stealer? She was amazing in the movie.
DAVID DIAZ : Not at all. [LAUGHS] Much worse. [LAUGHS]
JIM WHITE : Let, let me answer that, ’cause when Mrs. Diaz saw this film the first time, she came out and she said “I love the film, but they didn’t make me strict enough.”
DAVID DIAZ : Yeah. Yeah.
JIM WHITE : That was it.
DAVID DIAZ : Yeah, so just to let you know: I think Hollywood did a, a very good job of depicting and not making it look too guilty as regarding CPS. [LAUGHS] So, just to let y’all know we’re proud of what Hollywood did and what Niki and the producer and everyone did, but we lived in a very, very strict environment and still do to this day.
FEMALE : How McFarland had changed, um, now that the movie’s gone?
DANNY DIAZ : You know, growing up in McFarland we didn’t have much. There’s nothing to do in McFarland. [CHUCKLES] When we were growing up, maybe seven, eight, nine, ten thousand people is the population. It’s grown a little bit in the last two, three years but not much has changed. It’s a poor community. You’re driving on 99, the freeway, and you blink and you’ll miss it. And there’s not much to do there. We don’t have the big malls. We don’t have actually any [CHUCKLES] malls.
[LAUGHS] And we don’t have the big grocery stores. And so, it’s just a fun place to be. But if it weren’t for sports our kids would be lost, because it’s either education and sports or the streets. Those are the two extremes and those are the two options that are there for our community. Right now our community is excited obviously with the movie and rightfully so. All the notoriety that they’re getting and what this man over here, Mr. White, our coach, has brought to not just our program but to our community. We all feel grateful and the whole community’s just embracing it.
JIM WHITE : Let me add a little bit of that. His viewpoint of not changing too much from that aspect – I see a definite change. We have changed our city logo. We are no longer the Heartbeat of Agriculture. Now we are a runner running through the field, a figure — silhouette of a runner. And underneath — and this was given out to the high school and a high school girl came up with this logo — Tradition, Unity, and Excellence. So, that’s a big change.
How often do you guys still train together with the new students?
DAMACIO DIAZ : Us training together, ma’am?
DAVID DIAZ : Uh, we don’t train. [LAUGHS]. We run once in a while amongst–
DAMACIO DIAZ : Yeah.
DAVID DIAZ : — ourselves. I still currently run. I still race competitively even though you’re not as good as you once were. But I still do that and I coach. But the guys over here we’re in decent shape still.
DAMACIO DIAZ : Yeah, we just run, Danny and I, just to stay in shape.
DAVID DIAZ : Yeah.
DAMACIO DIAZ : Our kids all compete. And so, we have kids that are in high school and some that are in elementary school. And so, I can’t keep up with my kids in high school [CHUCKLES], but I go with my little seven-year-old. We run three, four, five miles a day just to stay in shape.
I’m a runner. Um, I’m running my first half marathon soon, and, um, I just wanna know are those hills what you really trained on?
DAMACIO DIAZ : They’re a lot worse.
DAVID DIAZ : It doesn’t do it justice.
DANNY DIAZ : Yeah, if you drive 600 miles out —
JIM WHITE : East.
DANNY DIAZ : — east from McFarland, Mr. White here would take us to the hills. And, wow, those hills are — it’s not rolling hills. Those suckers are, are steep. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DAVID DIAZ : So, it helps you running wise and mentally wise, as well, because you have to endure that steepness, if you will.
I wanna know what your guys’s first reaction was when you heard that not only was your story going to be a movie but specifically this movie and knowing what these true life, inspirational movies become?
JIM WHITE : From my aspect, I guess it was in various stages, because this was about a 15-year process for my wife and I. We signed with this one company. Two years later, we signed with another one, not quite that often, but it took a long process. When actually Disney did it we were thrilled very much so that Disney had it, because then we knew that it shouldn’t have any sex and cussing and cigarettes and this type of thing, you know.
We were very happy that that was going to take place. But in reality the script that was written, we prayed that it would never happen. And it didn’t. They threw it out. And then Disney resigned us and got a better script writer. And that’s the one we have now. Yes.
DAVID DIAZ : So, just to go back and let you know how my mother was depicted in previous scripts [LAUGHS] was probably a more accurate [CHUCKLES] version. But this is gonna be a family movie, so it is okay.
How much or any input did you have to have on the filming, the making the movie?
DAMACIO DIAZ : Mr. White might have more than us. We basically told our story, got interviewed for hours and hour and hours, and that was pretty much it. Mr. White had a lot more influence in how this script was written.
DANNY DIAZ : Once you give them your story, obviously you sign with them. Then they can do whatever they want. So, with myself, they [CHUCKLES] made me chubby in the movie. [LAUGHS] They made me, uh —
DAMACIO DIAZ : Go ahead and call it. It was fat.
DANNY DIAZ : Huh?
DAMACIO DIAZ : They said you’re fat. [LAUGHS]
DANNY DIAZ : I’m trying to be nice here. But, no, they made me chubby or overweight [CHUCKLES] and hecka hella slow [LAUGHS] when you watch the movie. But that’s okay. That’s what they wanted to do and I’m just excited to be included in the movie. They could’ve chosen any other team, because we have nine state titles. They went back to the original first year that we won state. Some of these teams that came after us were way better than us, way better than me as far as the running. And so, we were just happy that Disney stuck with that first year and we’re lucky to be in the movie.
So, Danny you’re talking about they made you a little different. Is that how the last race happened?
DAVID DIAZ : Oh, yeah.
DANNY DIAZ : That is true. That is definitely true. Our third man, Jose, he just-
DAMACIO DIAZ : The one that took off real fast, you know.
DANNY DIAZ : Yeah, that’s true. He —
DAMACIO DIAZ : He was our seventh man actually.
DANNY DIAZ : Yeah, that race, um —
DAMACIO DIAZ : And he was our fifth.
DANNY DIAZ : Yeah.
DAMACIO DIAZ : Mm-hmm.
DANNY DIAZ : Running in the race, Mr. White and the rest of the guys were telling me Jose’s out of it. So, at that point I was running the sixth man and so I became fifth man and I was, for the first time in my life in the top five. I had never been the top five, and as you know the top five are the ones that score.
So that was my experience for the first time at state having the pressure. I never had pressure. [LAUGHS] These guys had all the pressure. I was just running to, to displace other runners and add them more points. If I could beat their third, fourth, fifth man, sixth man whatever, I would add more points to them. That’s why we had the sixth and seventh runner on a team. That day I was fifth runner and I felt so much pressure, but you know, lucky we were able to pull it off.
Did that change how you ran in future races? [Asking Danny – referring to the last race of the first year]
DANNY DIAZ : Uh, well, that was the last race for that year. Then the following season, we were ranked number one for the entire season. Uh, it was 1988 and I was a senior at that time and my brother, Damacio, was a junior. And we were running number one all year long. And, uh, low and behold, Mr. White, during Thanksgiving break, uh, when we have no school, he had an emergency. He had to take off to Stockton to, to be with his family with a family situation and he left us there to, to train on our own.
DANNY DIAZ : We didn’t train. We [LAUGHS], we played basket–
DAVID DIAZ : We played basketball.
DANNY DIAZ : We, we love basketball. [LAUGHS] We — all, all of us are basketball players.
DAVID DIAZ : We wish we — yeah.
DANNY DIAZ : And we played basketball the entire week. [CHUCKLES] And, and we didn’t train and we got fifth that year. We should’ve had first. So —
DAMACIO DIAZ : Yeah.
DANNY DIAZ : — Mr. White never went back to Stockton never again. [LAUGHS]
I notice a lot of you became teachers. Did Coach White encourage you to use any of his style when you’re teaching or coaching?
DAVID DIAZ : He was a very inspirational part. You know we are a God-fearing folks, so we were teaching in Sunday school on Sundays. And we were part of the Royal Rangers and we did that on Tuesday nights at our local church. Mr. White was there as a person that we can rely on. And believe it or not, before he was a coach, he’s a scientist. He was a fifth grade teacher and before he was a P.E. teacher. So he’s a very knowledgeable guy. You pick up any type of bug or any type of leaf, he knows what it is. And we try to trip him up on that, and he’s very smart in that regard. He’s a pretty good coach, too.
But [LAUGHS], as far as wanting to be a teacher he wasn’t the only reason why we got into the education, but he was one of the two or three maybe. My parents definitely pushed us to go that route and not the wide road most people go to is other than college. Now college is very encouraged, but back in the day I wouldn’t say that a fifth of the folks in high school ended up [finishing], especially folks of our color and our culture. We maybe started school but hardly any of us finished. So, it was a big deal for us.
JIM WHITE : Let, let me add one thing to that. Mr. Diaz, their dad Paul, he pushed education real hard, too. And he told me “I want them to get their education, so I will go back and get my education”. And he did. He went back and got it.
DAVID DIAZ : He got a GED in 19–
DAMACIO DIAZ : ’90.
DAVID DIAZ : — ’90, ’91.
DAMACIO DIAZ : He graduated in ’90.
Sports in high school can make or break a young man. For my son, it pushed him to go to college and do well while he was in high school. How did that impact your lives during high school to move on in the future?
DAMACIO DIAZ : For us, I believe sports, in general, we were already tough kids and we were used to working hard and they’re seven of us in our family. We’re all a year apart. David’s the oldest and he was a bully. He would beat us up all the time. [LAUGHS]
But he encouraged us to play sports. Matter of fact, he ordered us and he forced us and he made us play sports, because the way he saw it he’s the first one, and so he learned it before us. It taught you discipline. It gave you character. It taught you how to accept losing or winning. That was something that we did since we were third, fourth, fifth graders and by the time we got to college and we’re now training and, and running and living our lives with Mr. White — some of us traveled out of the state, out of the country with Mr. White — it became something that was gonna help us get out of our environment, and it did.
All of us went to college. A lot of us competed in college. And sports is what kind of helped us get out of that.
This is my question to Coach Jim White…
In the movie, you [Coach White] spent a day picking in the fields with the boys. Did you ever do that again?
JIM WHITE : I’ve done it quite often. I didn’t enjoy it very much. [LAUGHS] We didn’t do cabbage. We didn’t have that close to us. That was the only thing really that they had that’s available to show that type of work [for the movie]. It’s grapes and it’s oranges and it’s almonds and it’s cotton and stuff in our area, but those weren’t available. So, that was a real good part of the movie though. But, yes, I did that. I used to take Damacio and some of his peers. And Johnny was with him.
DAMACIO DIAZ : Thomas.
JIM WHITE : Thomas. And we I took them to the fields because I was looking for workers to try to get us some income so we can go to Oregon and we can go to San Jose and we can put shoes on their feet. So the only way I could get some of them into some of the fields that I had to do the work with them. So, that was good.
DAVID DIAZ : And just to let you know, um, God’s good and we own almonds now. [CHUCKLES] And about two years ago, Mr. White, you help me pull?
JIM WHITE : Yeah.
DAVID DIAZ : He was out in my field still in the evening helping me do my work. As, as he’s retired. [LAUGHS]
To you culture, um, is all about community and it takes a village to raise a child. Is that still happening in McFarland?
DANNY DIAZ : Absolutely. It does take a village [CHUCKLES] to raise, a child. In our case, you know, there’s seven and my dad worked a lot of hours. So, my dad worked ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours a day sometimes and both of them [his parents] come from large families. My dad has 13 brothers and sisters. My mom has 12. So we have a lot of uncles and everybody has a lot of kids. I have seven kids myself and all of us have a lot of kids.
If it’s not for the help of our cousins and our uncles and our friends and our church it’s really difficult during these times to raise a child. Then to keep him on the narrow road or that straight road is tough. So I’m always looking out for their kids. They’re looking out for my kids and we’re trying to police each other, because it’s very easy to get distracted and go way off course.
DAMACIO DIAZ : And if I can add to that. [CHUCKLES] Same thing happened back in the day when we were kids. Our father never could ever go watch us race. We were racing big races and trying to accomplish big things, so we looked at Mr. White as our dad. He literally would buy us shoes, feed us, counsel us, console us when we lost, that kinda stuff. And so, we have a great dad. We love our dad. He is amazing. But Mr. White was our second father. He did a lot of things for us that our dad couldn’t, because it financially just wasn’t available.
After the interview we were able to get a picture with them. (I am in the red in the back between Damacio and Danny). It was really an honor. These guys are amazing and it was a pleasure meeting them and listening to them. You can read our Kevin Costner Interview about his role as Jim White in the McFarland, USA movie.
If you haven’t seen a trailer yet, here you go…
McFARLAND, USA is rated PG and opens in
theaters everywhere on February 20th!
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This was an all expense paid trip provided by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.