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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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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A Big O-R-A-L-E For Miguel Rivera!

It warmed my heart to read in today’s The Record that Tracy High School student, Miguel Rivera, won 10 medals in this year’s San Joaquin County Decathlon. Miguel holds a 3.75 GPA. Makes La Raza proud.

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Rape in Our Fields

Watch the frightening and sobering PBS Documentary that appeared on PBS’ Frontline about the sexual exploitation and rape of women who harvest our orchards and fields.

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Baby, I’ve Got Blogging On My Mind

I discovered the Blog scene several years ago after hearing about these mysterious places on the Internet where you could go to write and publish things for free. Since I have been writing for over 40 years poetry, stories, essays and all sorts of other nonsense I thought “Why not? Maybe somebody out there will have nothing to do and read it.” So I followed all the prompts at and a headed out.

I knew I wanted to write about Chicano issues so I needed a catchy title for the blog . I always loved the “isms” in words like symbol-ism, commun-ism, social-ism, femin-ism, cub-ism, fasc-ism, dada-ism, surreal-ism and the like. But Chicanism? And then it hit me: Chican-izmo!

The early pieces I wrote were rough, but with time they became quite good if I say so myself. By biggest hope was that I would enjoy “comments” or some kind of dialogue from my readers as I had seen on other Blogs, not nearly as meaningful as mine. But there were few. I tracked the “views” or “visits” to my Blog (at first half of them were mine!) but they tell you only that some wayward soul had “clicked” on your site, not whether they actually read anything you’d written.

With time, I learned how to add images and insert videos and links to other sites. But still few, if any comments. What the heck, I wrote anyway. And now 50,000 hits later, I try to write a post now and then just to keep the cobwebs from forming around the edges, you know. The Blogger world is quite amazing and some Blogs are impressive but my techno-skills hinder me. All of this has led me to this Blog and even better now I can link posts from one Blog to the other. If you are not asleep by now, take a moment of your precious time to visit my other Blog by clicking the link below. At least Facebook has a “like” icon.

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Gravity: Film Directed by Mexican-Born Director Alfonso Cuarón Orozco Takes 7 Oscars

Kudos to Alfonso Cuarón, the first Latino to ever win an Oscar for Best Director in Hollywood’s annual Academy Awards, for his work in the movie “Gravity”, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, which has grossed over $7 million in world wide box offices. But that’s not all. The Academy of the 86th annual Academy Awards also merited the movie with Oscars for best in Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Editing, and Original Score. Ironically, Cuarón, born in Mexico City in 1961, always wanted two be one of two things when he grew up, a movie director or an astronaut, and it seems he achieved both, in a way, with this science-fiction thriller. To learn more about the director visit the following link:

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Men in Blue Violate Latino Trust?

I must admit I am not completely shocked at both hearing and reading about these officers in King City, California who appear to have taken advantage of poor Latinos/Hispanics who speak little or no English and cannot reasonably defend themselves. There is a long history of those in power, at all levels of our society, who take advantage of the weak, and much of this is evident against immigrant groups, especially those with limited English skills. For instance, back in the 1960’s, Cesar Chavez uncovered the unscrupulous tactics of certain ranchers who knowingly hired illegal aliens then called the immigration department for roundups just before paydays.

Of course, these officers will have their day in court, and it will probably be their word against theirs and we all know who generally wins in these cases.

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