Chicano icon leaves musical legacy

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Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez

Illustration by Joaqin Junco Jr.

Few community legends get a soundtrack to accompany their work. Even fewer manage to write their own.

Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez was a community icon whose music stretched over the national landscape as inspiration for legions in the Chicano community. His passing in late October, at the age of 64, left a legacy of music covering politically charged themes to celebrations of life.

Sanchez was born in Blyth, California. His parents were both farm workers. At the time of his death, he had become a community icon in San Diego County and a national treasure. He led one of the most loved bands in the Chicano community, Los Alacranes, and was honored as a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2013.

Herman Baca, a long time Chicano activist and president of the Committee on Chicano Rights, was a good friend of Sanchez since they met in 1970 during a protest at San Diego State University while Sanchez was a student there.

“Chunky and I were doing what we were going to do for the next 45 plus years,” Baca said. “Chunky was singing and playing and I was speaking and we kind of hit it right off.”

Their friendship grew as they kept in touch through all the protests and rallies they attended, Baca said.

“I saw Chunky over the next 45 years at community struggles that had been brought or initiated by the Chicano Movement,” he said. “There was a lot of activism, a lot of what you call social-political conciencia. There was a whole bunch of clamor and yelling and screaming for change in U.S. society by various groups.”

Baca said he and Chunky fought together for Chicano Park, a 45-year-old park under the Coronado Bridge and the Interstate 5 where life under the bridge means colorful murals brought to life by joyful music, often times provided by Sanchez himself. After peacefully fighting the city to prevent the area from becoming a parking lot and a California Highway Patrol station in 1970, the park became Sanchez’s second home, Baca said.

“Chunky would play every year at Chicano Park,” said Baca. “Chunky immortalized Chicano park.”

Sanchez and Los Alacranes recorded “Chicano Park Samba” as tribute to the park’s creation. Chicano Park celebrated its 45th anniversary in April.

“When I spoke at Chicano Park at the 45th anniversary of the takeover, I read a little part of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’s epic poem ‘I Am Joaquin,’” said Baca. “Afterwards, when I was getting off stage, Chunky asked me ‘Herman, if you’re ever able to recite that poem for me please do it.’”

Baca said he read the lines of the epic poem at a memorial service for Sanchez held at Chicano Park.

“I must fight/ and win this struggle/ for my sons, and they/ must know from me who I am,” /…I look the same/ I feel the same/ I cry/ And/ Sing the same./ I am the masses of my people and/ I refuse to be absorbed,” were among the lines Baca read.

“I am Joaquin” encapsulates Sanchez’s work, said Baca.

“It was powerful in that it was in memory of Chunky because I think that epitomizes what Chunky was all about,” he said. “He refused to be absorbed by those that we confront who have placed us in this situation.”

Baca said the Chicano Movement lost a big part of its history with the passing of Sanchez, but his spirit would continue in the community through his music and the activism that others do.

“As long as you listen to those songs Chunky is always going to be here,” he said. “If you’re ever in a demonstration, a picket, a rally or you come to Chicano Park, you’re going to know Chunky’s spirit is here. We buried him, but he has not left us. He was the heart and soul of the Chicano Movement and he was the cement that held our people here in San Diego and Aztlan together. That’s his great contribution.”

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