New Latino Milestones… Ay, Caramba!!


Two recent stories on the front page, mind you, of Stockton’s, The Record, grabbed my immediate attention. The first, pertained to new findings that show that more Latinos than whites are being accepted in to the   UC system. Now, that might not seem like good news to some, but you need to understand that Latinos in the US have come a l-0-n-g way since the early part of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, when I was a senior in high school  few Mexicans or Hispanics (we didn’t refer to ourselves as Latinos then) went to college. I knew of not one single one who did! It simply was unheard of.

When I went to college, a small private art school, population some 600+, in the Bay Area, there was only about 6 of “us” on campus! Thus, it was a BIG DEAL when we spotted another one of us on campus. Classrooms were full of whites with one Mexican/Latino face in the crowd, if any. According to the article, of the 61,120 freshman applicants accepted into UC 17, 589, or 29% , were Latino while Whites made up 27%. Whew! Big stuff.

The second article concerned California’s changing demographics showing that some time in March, for the first time since 1850, Latinos are the largest, 39%, ethnic group in the state. Hijola! Ay, Caramba! The only other state so far to join California in this phenomena, is New Mexico. However, we know that numbers alone do not translate to power, and that Latinos still rank near the bottom in economic and educational status.

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Kudos to Mexican Heritage Center on Awarding of $15,000 Grant!

And Kudos to the Center’s new President, Gracie Madrid who was instrumental in submitting the proposal to San Joaquin County. The project consists of three(3) components.  The activities will involve students in high quality art, music and folkloric dance to elementary school students in grades 4-8.  Each separate activity, will have a qualified facilitator who will provide the students with the skills and techniques necessary to learn the activity.  In addition, the students will be given a comprehensive historical perspective to each activity being taught.
A cultural festival of the AFTER SCHOOL ACTION ARTS PROGRAM will take place in May, 2015 which will give the students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in the areas of art, music and folkloric dance and acknowledge their work by presenting them with certificates and awards.  As a public service, the community at large, family members, and friends of the participants will be invited.
Needs statement:  Fine and performing arts education has been on the decline in public schools for more than a generation.  Very few schools offer high quality arts learning.(Wallace Foundation, 2005.
A high # of students lack access to after school programs that provide rich opportunities for growth, learning and fun, and find themselves unsupervised at the end of the day. (The after School Corp. 1998)
In the 2010 census, a negative health factor that has been identified in San Joaquin County is the lack of safe and affordable place to be active. (2010 census)
Twenty nine percent (29%) of juvenile crimes on school days occur between 2 and 5pm.  These are peak hours for juveniles to experiment with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex.  (US Department of Justice, 1997)

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Whats’s New at the Mexican Heritage Center?

Mexican Heritage Center and Gallery
111 S. Sutter
Stockton, CA

What’s Up in the Gallery? The Visual Art High School Showcase  will run April 1st – the 30th.   This display features selected artwork from Stockton Unified School District students ranging from 9th – 12th grade.   Friday, April 11th beginning at 5:30 is the opening reception.  At this time  the artists will be recognized for their participation in the show.  First, Second and Third place prizes will also be given to each grade level.  We would like to thank Don and Marcia Knudson for their generous contribution for the cash prizes.

Cleveland School Remembers is a group of activist who’s current project Draw It Out is trying to engage our youth thoughtful and reflective activities.  The latest results of the project will be on display in the centers storefront. The Wish Flags (a derivative of Prayer Flags) were created by local youth at the Health and Safety Day and Earth Day events.  They were asked “What would you wish for  your neighborhood?”  Come and see their answers.  You will be amazed.

San Joaquin County Grant Awarded – Congratulations is due to our new President Gracie Madrid. She  applied for and has been awarded  a $15,000 grant to be used for dance at the center.  Keep up the good work Gracie!

Sitters Needed -  Review the calendar.  If you are available to help sit the gallery let us know.

Membership Meeting – The next membership meeting is April 21st at 5:30

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Music to the Grave

I can’t say how many times my compadres and I have played our guitars and sung for rosaries and funerals, sometimes for family, sometimes for friends, sometimes for total strangers. We usually had a list of stock songs, mostly religious ones, ones I had learned in church, both Spanish and English. But sometimes, we would get requests, songs that had been special or favorites of the deceased. Often, too the songs were secular, Rancheras, a Corrido, a Bolero. A pop song.

When we got a favorite, we would rush to learn the song, if we didn’t already know it. Once, we were asked to do the old county-western song, “Goodnight Irene”, for a lady named Irene, of course, a song I loved to sing when I was a kid and one of the first I learned all the way through when I first learned to play guitar. It was so perfect for the occasion.

I have no idea how long this Mexican tradition of singing for the dead has gone on but I would guess it’s been a long time. Of course, music that is part of  liturgy of the Catholic mass has been prevalent for centuries, but I’m talking here more of that music done for rosaries, and especially at the cemetery. There is no question that it soothes and takes the edge off what would otherwise be a somber and dreadful experience, especially when the family and friends join in to sing.

In those moments when a mourner loses all control and the weeping is the loudest, well we played harder and louder. It worked.  But sometimes, a song elicited even more tears, touching some deep nerve in the mourners or even the musicians.

Recently, a friend sent me this link which prompted the above response. Take a moment to watch it.

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Review of My Book by Rosa Martha Villarreal

While others, readers and friends, colleagues have done reviews of my book, “Songs From the Barrio: A Coming of Age in Modesto, Ca.”, one of the best is written for, Somos En Escrito, by my dear friend, teacher and author Rosa Martha Villarreal who has published several books including one of my favorite ones, a novella, “Doctor Magdalena”, a masterful work of stream-of-consciousness writing. Please take a moment to read her review of my book.

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Las Mañanitas: Poem For Cesar Chavez on His Birthday


The Brown Saint: Cesar Chavez



                       You peer downward now, a gaze

                        of satisfaction. The banner of

                        Our Lady of Guadalupe flutters

                        behind you; symbol of hope and

                        faith.  Smiling, you nod at the

                        browbeaten men women and

                        children, once so silent, so humble;

                        now emboldened they speak up, 

                        speak out, demanding their rights:

                        Just wages, fresh drinking water,

                        protection from perilous pesticides,

                        sanitation, a union, health benefits,

                        every  worker’s right.


                        Their calloused bronze hands 

                        surgically shuffle through fruit

                        laden branches, bountiful vines

                        picking our fruit and vegetables

                        under vengeful suns and frosty dawns

                        On ladders, on their knees, bent double,

                        their knives, pruning shears, shovels

                        and hoes, are their scalpel, their brush, 

                        their hammer, their level, their chisel.


                        The Green Giant shuddered

                        as you stood before him: so

                        small, so humble, so brown, so

                        defiant, a warrior in worn khaki

                        pants and flannel shirt; a David

                        before Goliath, a Gadfly, a pesky

                        gnat to be swatted away; your

                        sling  was  your perserverence

                        and your fasting; Too young it

                        took you from us. And now, we

                        look skyward to you, you who gave

                        your life for them; for you stood your

                        ground, and exposed America’s

                        dark secret: its harvest of shame.

                                 Richard Rios

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Student Artists to Show at Mexican Heritage Center

The center will host the “Visual Art High School Showcase”, artwork by SUSD students, grades 9-12 from Tuesday, April 1 to Wednesday, April 30. A reception to honor the student artists will be held at the center, 111 S. Sutter St. Stockton, Ca, on Friday, April 11 from 5:30-7:30. Stop by to see the exhibit and meet the students.

The center’s gallery is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, from 12:00-5:00 PM. The exhibit and the reception is free. Also stop by to visit their “Tienda”, or gift shop for unique hand crafted gifts from Mexico and Latin America.

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Cesar Chavez Movie: Plugging up the Gaping Hole

History is a continuum of events often with no obvious relation to one another. If you want to tell the story of M, for example, you sometimes need to explain how L contributed to it. But then, you get caught in having to tell how K set the groundwork for L and how the two contributed to M. But then what about J, and before that, I?

Mike Fitzgerald in today’s The Record writes of the new Cesar Chavez film as having a “gaping hole” in it by not developing the contributions of Filipinos to the farm worker movement, long before Chavez came on the scene and perhaps rightly so. It is certainly a story to be told and I suppose someone in Hollywood ought to make another film about it. But if we wait for Hollywood to tell our stories we may be waiting a long time. I think Chavez’ story had to start somewhere, despite the scant references in it to the role Filipinos. The film was a biopic of the man, Cesar Chavez, and not the History of the Farm Worker Struggle. The movie “Gandhi” is three hours and seven minutes long. I wonder how many critical historical facts it omits or glosses over? As always, in any docu-drama, audiences of all ages leave the theater trusting the movie makers have separated fact from fiction, as in the films JFK, Nixon and “W.”

He also laments the scant references in it to Stockton and our own Dolores Huerta and her contributions to the movement. Again, I agree. Her role in both the historical movement and the film deserved much more attention, as she was the one who confronted the growers and served as chief negotiator of many of the union’s agreements and contracts. At Stockton’s premiere, Dolores spoke about the struggle for workers and human rights which she believes is not over, ending by praising the film but stressing “This is NOT a movies about me. It is a movie about Cesar Chavez.”

This aside, the film deserves credit for what it did well. Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez, was laudably played by, at least, a real Mexican, and not an Anglo as we have seen so often in the past. Director Diego Luna beautifully captures the faces of the gente, the people, faces of the workers, the oppressed, interspersed with newsreel and documentary footage, with beautiful shots of California’s Central Valley fields and the marches that took some of us in the audience back to the times, the sometimes deadly and frightening times. I enjoyed how the director gave importance to the role of Cesar’s wife, Helen, powerfully played by America Ferrera. Helen is seldom heard of in the history books. I’m sorry, but I was moved to tears in many scenes.

It is obvious that the film is no substitute for the complete and complex historical events of the farm worker struggle. So much more was omitted or overlooked. The theater, during the Stockton premiere, was filled with young people as they intently watched, laughed and cheered throughout; not one cell phone screen could be seen for the film’s duration! It was heartening to see them huddle around their hero, Dolores Huerta. It took her niece some 10 minutes just to read the list of awards she has received. Maybe the Dolores Huerta movie will follow this one.

We can only hope the film will whet the appetites of the next generation to learn the greater story of the farm worker struggle from history books. But even history books don’t always tell the same story, darn it. It all depends on whether the hunter or the lion tells it, you know. And Mr. Fitzgerald is right again when he says presumably of the film: “Chavez and Chicanos of the time deserve praise and recognition.”



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Cesar Chavez: The Good, The Bad, and The Indefensible?

Today’s Op-Ed piece in Stockton’s The Record by columnist Ruben Navarette seeks to make a point, though weakly, about the darker side of Cesar Chavez. I think we are all familiar with the “pecadillos” (little sins) or “pecadótes” (big ones) of our heroes, and learn to our dismay, that individuals like Bill Clinton, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were hardly perfect.

On the advent of the inauguration of the film “Cesar Chavez: An American Hero”, Navarette is worried that the film will glorify the man, Chavez, and ignore what he calls the “bad” and the “indefensible.” While I am not necessarily disputing Navarette’s claims, I am saying he fails to bring up the other (often darker) side, that of unscrupulous growers and ranchers who stooped to even worse tactics in order to preserve the wealth and power over they had historically held over the labor force.

Navarette begins with the “good”, of course, praising Cesar for the Farmworker’s union and how it “brought dignity to into the fields… toilets, clean water, collective bargaining, lunch breaks”, etc. the obviously easy stuff to praise him for.

What Navarette call the “bad” was Chavez’ “paranoia” and “distrust” of supporters and “getting distracted by the drama of calling for grape boycotts… that in the end wound up being about hurting growers.” If my memory serves me correctly, the struggle on both sides often elapsed into which side could “hurt” the other the most. Navarette ignores the often immoral practices of the growers to counter the Boycott’s effects: deceit, brute force, and political clout they utilized in Sacramento.

Navarette ends his piece with what he calls the “indefensible”, how Chavez, “his cronies and the union itself” became “surrogates for the Immigration and Naturalization Service” by calling the INS “to arrest illegal immigrants who had crossed the picket lines.” However, again he ignores one of the darkest tactics, that of getting the INS to actually turn the other way and knowingly ALLOW illegals to cross the border so they could help ranchers break the farm worker strikes.

I for one don’t think Cesar was a saint. He was human, complete with all of our attributes and weaknesses. I am familiar with the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right” but I believe that in the final scheme of things, if this is defensible in the least, Chavez did less wrongs than the other side and much more good.

You can read the piece for yourself, and make up your own mind by clicking on the link below:

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Getting The Short End of the Stick?

I was moved to read and hear in the news that President Obama recently held a ceremony to award belated Medals of Honor to some 24 men of color, men who had been passed over for some reason or another, probably because of their color or ethnicity, men who had distinguished themselves in several of this country’s wars.

Of the 24 men who were awarded, 17 of them were Hispanic or Latino, Pvt. Pedro Cano, Pvt. Joe Gandara, Staff Sgt. Salvador Lara, Master Sgt. Manuel Mendoza, Cpl. Joe Baldonado, Sgt. Victor Espinoza, Sgt. 1st. Class Eduardo Gomez, Master Sgt. Juan Negron, Master Sgt. Mike Peña, Pfc. Demensio Rivera, Pvt. Michael Vera, Spc. Leonard Alvarado, Sgt. Ardie Copas, , Sgt. Jesus Duran, Sgt. Santiago Erevia, Sgt. Candelario Garcia, and Master Sgt. Jose Rodela.

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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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