Chunky Sanchez lives on through documentary


Members from Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlan perform before the viewing of “Singing Our Way to Freedom” Photo Credits: Professor Manuel Vélez

Serena Randazzo, Staff Writer

Students, professors, administrators and others from the community came together to watch a documentary called “Singing Our Way to Freedom”  directed by Paul Espinosa on April 9. This documentary followed the personal journey of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, a well known musician, songwriter, educator and activist. He was heavily involved in the Chicano community locally here in San Diego and even recognized at the national level. From this documentary we learned that he was involved as an activist during the farm labor movement. Both of his parents were farm laborers and Chunky himself even worked in the fields too, as he grew up in the small rural area of Blythe, CA. With his involvement with the farm laborer movement, Cesar Chavez himself asked Chunky Sanchez to perform at many of his rallies and marches. Before the film started, members of the group called Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlan performed music written by Chunky Sanchez himself. They themselves have had the chance to perform alongside Chunky during his lifetime. The music really brought the room together, everyone joined along by singing and clapping along to the music. The room felt that everyone was connected even before we watched the film.

In the film, Chunky spoke about a time in his life where as he was working on the fields he realized he needed to get out of the small farming town. Alongside with a few other farm laborers they attended San Diego State University in 1969, he spoke about how scary it was to attend a university coming from such a small town, the school had a bigger attendance than the population of his hometown. Chunky became part of a group called La Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlán, which was made up of both students and professors. During the time Chunky was attending SDSU in the San Diego community of Barrio Logan city officials were trying take away the community park and build a highway patrol station in its place. This didn’t sit well with the residents of Barrio Logan, Chunky became heavily involved in the protest to keep this area a community park, this park in now known as Chicano Park. Chunky wrote a song “Chicano Park Samba,” his music was more than just for entertainment, it was to make a statement and bring people together.

The music Chunky wrote and played was very powerful, his music fought for social justice. Chunky Sanchez played his music throughout the United States as many were drawn to the meaning of his music. In San Diego he would speak and perform to children from elementary school all the way to high school students. He even coached many little league teams. In the film you could see the true passion for his community and he served in anyway he could. In 2013, he received the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowships, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.  Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez passed away in October 2016 and is still honored in the San Diego community in many different ways. The King-Chavez Neighborhood of schools Arts Academy’s auditorium was named the Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez Auditorium in June 2013.

After the film played people shared their personal stories of Chunky, how they knew him or how they were able to hear him sing live during his lifetime. Some  had just learned about Chunky Sanchez for the first time but spoke up about how they felt a strong connection to Chunky. At this point the room was very emotional some shed tears as they remembered the good times they have seen of Chunky’s life.  Paul Espinosa spoke about his hopes to share his film through the many high schools here in San Diego and then be able to share the film further so everyone can see the impact Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez had on people.