Photo from the Latino Legacy Foundation
Chicano, Music, Activism
Ramón (Chunky) Sánchez
Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, charismatic elder musician and composer, mentor, educator, and activist, lent his talents and consejos (advice) to youth, adults and all interested. Chunky’s signature sound was committed to Mexican traditions with a Chicano style uniquely his own. He gave traditional songs, such as corridos, rancheras, and boleros, new meaning, voicing a new story written by Chicanos in the barrios of the United States. He is recognized as one of the most impactful musicians of the Chicano Civil Rights era nationally.
Born to immigrant Mexican parents in the California desert town of Blythe, Chunky learned to play traditional music at the knees of his mother and uncles, who had been the musical entertainment for their village on the Río Yaqui in Sonora, Mexico. He grew up working the Palo Verde Valley fields of Riverside, California. Recruited to San Diego State University he joined folklorist and ethnomusicologist Pepe Villarillo’s musical group La Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlan touring the nation and Mexico and later became lead vocalist for Los Alacranes Mojados, which he founded with his brother Ricardo.
He played multiple instruments – guitar, requinto, jarana, vihuela, cuatro, 12-string guitar, marimba, upright base, harmonica, and percussion while composing his own music. As an Artist in Residence, Sánchez taught music and vocals in colleges, universities and in communities throughout the nation, with King Chavez Elementary School naming their auditorium in his honor.
Sánchez’s musical compositions, educational curriculum, and activism were rooted in commentaries on social injustice—from the picket lines with César Chavez and the United Farmworkers, to the signing of solidarity songs at the Vietnam War protests, documenting community’s struggle for self-determination, to composing music that encouraged the education of youth and demonstrating against the on-going anti-immigrant sentiment in this country. His work remains a repository of our nation’s hidden stories.
His composition, “Chicano Park Samba” narrates the battle the Logan Heights community had with the city of San Diego and the State of California’s effort to create a California Highway Patrol Station where the community wanted a Park. The song and the struggle galvanized the community, who with picks and shovels created “a park of their own” as his song narrated and stopped further destruction of our community. Other compositions like “Caminando Las Calles de Logan Heights” provides a visual walking tour of Logan Heights and El Quinto Sol, conveys the ending of the fifth sun of the Aztec Calendar or the humorous rendition “Chorizo Sandwich.”
Sánchez, troubadour of the Barrio, received numerous awards and acknowledgements from the California Arts Council, the City of San Diego Commission on Arts and Culture, the San Diego Public Arts Advisory Board, the Cesar Chavez Humanitarian Award and in 2013 he became a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, the nation’s highest level of acknowledgment for his Chicano musical artistry.