Some Thoughts on Veteran’s Day 2015

I never thought of myself as a veteran, though I served in the US Army for three years from 1962-65. I assumed that “veterans” were those who had fought in wars. I enlisted in 1962, at age 24, right after college. We had the “draft” in those days, so since I was single and unmarried and I was ripe for the picking. I chose to enlist contrary to the wishes of family and friends. Some of my friends chose to get married and have kids, just to avoid the draft. That seemed pretty extreme to me. This was just after the “Berlin Crisis” but before Vietnam erupted. A good, safe time to serve my country, I thought.

With a Master’s Degree in hand, I had hoped to land some soft MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) but true to form, the Army, after basic training at Ford Ord, California, sent me to where I was deemed most useful to my country, firing 105mm cannons in the mid-western plains, in some god-forsaken place in Oklahoma, called Fort Sill. It was 10 degrees above zero that winter. A far cry from the weather in the Bay Area.

I had enlisted under one condition: I won’t sign unless the Army promises to send me to Europe. It had been my dream since college when we studied great European art. I knew the exactly where the great art and museums were and the fine churches. I signed, and they kept their promise. When I got my orders for duty in Germany, I was ecstatic.

I was stationed at a small village called Wachernheim (couldn’t even find it on a map) smack in the heart of the Rhine Valley, about 30 miles from beautiful Mainz, Germany right on the Rhine. It turned out to be an “Honest John” (missile) battalion. What I would do here was beyond me. I settled into the routines of Army life: mopping and polishing floors, cleaning latrines, maintainning trucks and jeeps in the motor pool, pulling guard-duty, and KP.

In time, I became a battalion clerk, though I could barely type, hunt-and-peck, but I could write, spell and knew English grammar. But the plan was to travel and that I did: Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark and beautiful Germany. And I saw the art, museums and churches I had only seen in art books and in slides in my art history courses! Since Europe is so small, I could travel to other countries on a three day pass! Let alone the 30-day leaves we were given each year. And I got to stand before the Vermeers, the Rembrandts, the Michaelangelos, the Sistine chapel, inside the Louvre, the Prado: me the young Mexican boy from a poor barrio in Southside Modesto!

In all, this experience turned out to be one of my great adventures in life, fulfilling my my dream to see Europe and allowing me to fulifill my “duty to my country” (as we spoke of it then.) Moreover, I met great friends in the Army, one Rick Banker – has become a life-long friend.

My mother prayed to La Virgen de Guadalupe for me to return safely, and that she did. Perhaps it was her prayers the kept me from being sent to Vietnam, as the ship I was to return to the US on, was suddenly recalled in order to transport American soldiers there.

She had made a “Manda” that we would go to the Basilca of Guadalupe in Mexico City to give thanks on my safe return. Though I fought with her, nearly refusing to go, it was on this very trip that I would meet that I would meet and marry my lifelong partner, Graciela, of 49 years. Its a story still in progress.

Anyway, I think about all of this on this Veterans Day 2015, over a copy my DD 214 (Honorable Discharge) sitting on my printer, as I prepare to go to Hometown Buffet for a free lunch to Veterans today. I, unlike other Vets, and because of them, have lived to tell this story.

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English Only Señor: The Burial and Disinterment of “Mr. Spanish”

     I recently watched “The Children of Giant”, a documentary on the making of the 1958 Hollywood blockbuster, “Giant”, directed by George Stevens starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean, in the last film before his tragic death. The story was based on the controversial novel (1952) by Edna Farber, about unscrupulous Texas cattle barons, and the racial divide between Whites and Mexicans in the early 20th century. The documentary, directed by Hector Galvan, tells of how the tiny town of Marfa, Texas, chosen for most of the on-location filming, with its large population of Mexicans, many of whom served as extras, was affected.

Funny, but what stood out to me in the documentary is one bizarre, darkly-humorous story epitomizing the phobia of racial discrimination against anything Spanish or Mexican, especially its language. Talk about English-only!

In the local Blackwell School, a six-room adobe structure built in 1889, the racial division between Whites and Mexicans was made abundantly clear by the school’s policy prohibiting Mexican football players from using the same showers as the White players. The local cemetery was also clearly divided into a “White” and “Mexican” section. In her essay “The Politics of Tears: Marfa, Texas”, Mary Walling Blackburn, tells a story about a little-known “burial” that took place in 1954 at the school (also referenced in the documentary). Students (presumably Mexicans) were gathered at the school’s flagpole (quite appropriate) and instructed to write Spanish words on little pieces of paper. The papers were then placed in a make-believe coffin, and buried, in a symbolic ceremony that became known as “The Burial of Mr. Spanish.”

Blackburn further recounts that years later:

During the Blackwell Reunion of 2007, two hundred people assembled for the exhumation of Mr. Spanish. This disinterment was intended to symbolically reverse the previous suppression of Spanish by school authorities. However, when ceremony began, the original grave could not be located, so they orchestrated a performance, where the contents of the grave suddenly included an actual figure. This allowed for Mr. Spanish to be exhumed yet remain buried. Both dead and live, ‘he’ is nowhere and everywhere and language, as absence and presence, grids the ground. For myself and a few other outsiders, there was the misguided notion that something resembling the body of a man was to be pulled from the dirt schoolyard, something more like an effigy than a human. But what was disinterred from a shallow grave, dug expressly for the reunion, was a newly made child-size coffin with a book inside of it. In unremitting sunlight, Maggie Marquez, a local librarian and Ralph Melendez, the temporary gravedigger, both former Blackwell School students, held the new coffin aloft. Next, they lifted their fists to the air. Then Maggie raised the book to the sky – a small Spanish-English dictionary – and the plastic orange and red cover hovered for what seemed a while against the blue sky. The crowd, dressed in their old school colours, cheered.

I was so moved by Galvan’s film that I immediately ordered the movie “Giant” from Netflix and watched it (again). More humor: in one scene, as Jordon “Bick” Benedict, Jr. (Rock Hudson), the tall, handsome Texas baron whose ranch “Reata” sprawls across some 500,000 acres, introduces his naïve, east-coast bride , “Leslie”, (Elizabeth Taylor,) to life in the “country of Texas,” a barbecue is held in her honor. Bick explains that it was Mexicans who actually invented the “barbecue” and that the word comes from the Spanish word “Barbacoa.” But as Leslie watches the Mexican cooks pull a burlap-wrapped bundle from a smoking pit in the ground, she asks Bick what it is. It turns out to be a cow’s head (Cabeza, a Mexican delicacy), but when a giant scoop of steaming cow brains is placed in Leslie’s plate, Leslie she faints and has to be carried into the house! OMG, I would have fainted too!

Oh, and as for my analysis of having watched, “Giant”, again, I fell asleep about two-thirds of the way in! Perdonenme.

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Chicano Community Program KUOP 91.3 FM: 1973-1983 “The Mario Hernandez Years”

I recently did a series of three articles in “Joaquin” Magazine on the history of Chicano Community Program, “This is Your Chicano Community Program “The Ed Ramirez Years” (June issue), “The Mario Hernandez Years” (July issue), and “The Cho & Lo Years” (August issue). It was my privilege to have worked in one capacity or another on the air with the show’s originator, Delta College student Ed Ramirez (1973-1976) and with Mario Hernandez (1976-1983), doing Chicano poetry, Chicano/Mexican history/culture commentary, skits etc. (Pictured above is Mario Hernandez, Delta Student, the show’s program director.)

My articles document much of the history of this iconic and wildly popular radio show that brought issues and music of Chicano interest to the community. Above all it was known for educating our listeners to local events, fundraisers, car shows, art and cultural exhibits, news on the Farm worker struggle, the UFW and Cesar Chavez and playing latin jazz, and oldies and reading dedications on any given Sunday afternoon. Read about this history by visiting the link below and then clicking on “Previous Issues” to the issues of the months listed above:


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 During the 1980′s one of my students brought me a cartoon drawing he had made of two barrio vatos,“Cho & Lo” (Cholo) asking what I thought of turning them into live characters. At the time, I was teaching Chicano Studies at Delta College in Stockton and working with the Chicano Community Program at the University of Pacific’s radio station KUOP-FM, 91.3, an NPR affiliate, doing Chicano and Precolumbian poetry, and skits and so his idea was a natural for radio. He would play the role of “Cho” and “I” the part of “Lo” and his lovely wife would do the introduction to each episode “As the Barrio turns and the Menudo burns”, over the background song, “Cisco Kid” by “War.”

Thus, began a run that would last through the end of the 1980s and become a Sunday staple for the weekly program, and we would be catapulted for local fame, with kids in the schools rushing us for autographs!

We decided to address issues we found relevant, important or humorous, always with humor, slapstick, tongue-in-cheek, and satire: education, cultural conflict, gangs, drugs, machismo, the farm worker struggle, discrimination, and immigration. Some episodes, of course, were non-nonsensical or just plain Locuras. Our episodes began live on the air as the two of us read from prepared scripts, with only a few minutes rehearsal before each show. In time, we began to add extra readers, and sound-effects and we progressed to taping them during the week for each Sunday’s airing, and that allowed us to add stock sound-effects, dubbing and over-dubbing and to correct our flubs.

 For years, all that remained of “Cho & Lo” were memories and compliments by a random listener we would run into a Walmart or the mall.

But fortunately I had a small stash of recordings of Cho & Lo which I had transferred to cassette tapes and recently I have been working on producing a CD with a collection of some of our Locuras.

 The CD will be available in early August and I will post updates here, date of release, price, and how to order a copy. I can assure you this CD will be a “tripiazo.” Stay tuned for the next episode!!!

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May Issue of Joaquin Magazine is Out!

Check out our online version of our magazine, Joaquin. Take a moment to read my own article inside titled “Damn That Horse.” The featured artist of the month is Maceo Montoya and we’ve used one of his pieces for the cover.

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Stop by the Haggin Museum this Thursday, May 7 at 7PM to hear a poetry reading by three local poets in honor of the current exhibit of Photos of Mexico.

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Bobby Laird to Perform at Delta College

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Join Mexican Heritage Center for Breakfast Honoring Cesar Chavez



Cesar Chavez Breakfast


9:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Featuring Special Guest


who will be displaying artwork

$25.00 | person


111 S. Sutter Street, Stockton, CA 95202

Maceo Montoya grew up in Elmira, California. He comes from a family of artists, including his father Malaquias Montoya, a renowned artist, activist, and educator, and his late brother, Andrés Montoya, whose poetry collection The Iceworker Sings and Other Poems won the American Book Award in 2000. Maceo graduated from Yale University in 2002 and received his Master of Fine Arts in painting from Columbia University in 2006.

Montoya’s first novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist (Bilingual Review, 2010), was awarded the 2011 International Latino Book Award for “Best First Book” and Latino Stories named him one of its “Top Ten New Latino Writers to Watch.” In 2014, University of New Mexico Press published his second novel, The Deportation of Wopper Barraza, and Copilot Press published Letters to the Poet from His Brother, a hybrid book combining images, prose poems, and essays. You Must Fight Them, a novella and story collection, is forthcoming from University of New Mexico Press in fall 2015.

Montoya is an assistant professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department at UC Davis where he teaches the Chicana/o Mural Workshop and courses in Chicano Literature. He is also affiliated with Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA), a community-based arts organization located in Woodland, CA.

Maceo Montoya

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February Issue of “Joaquin” Magazine is Out.

The February issue is now available online at the following link. It focuses on the continuing issues surrounding recent attempts at Immigration reform. It also feature the work of Chicano artist, Malaquias Montoya, including one of his pieces on the cover.

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January Issue of “Joaquin” Magazine is out.

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    Richard Rios

    Richard Rios is a retired English and Chicano Studies teacher after 33 years at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Born in Modesto in 1939, the son of Mexican immigrants, he graduated from Modesto High School in 1957. He went on to study art at ... Read Full
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