By Augie Bareño
I have known Ramon”Chunky “Sanchez and his brother Ricardo for more than forty years. I met them in 1970, when Charlie Vasquez, who at the time was president of Southwestern College MEChA, got a call from Joe Gomez, City College MEChA, that they needed people to march on the park under the Coronado bridge and could Southwestern College MEChA and the South Bay community help out.
Charlie Vasquez’s Van the “Love Machine “was an important means of transportation to Southwestern College, for students from National City, if you didn’t happen to have a ride that day. If you were riding with Charlie Vasquez in the Love Machine, you did whatever Charlie was doing. This was at a time in the late 60s early 70s when people would share rides to school, be it San Diego State, Southwestern or other Colleges. In those days, not all students, had cars that worked consistently, were licensed or the students may not have had the money to pay, the 29 cents a gallon for gas.
Charlie Vasquez and Jorge Baca along with others like Roger, Hector and Allan Cazarez, Herman Baca started to organize people in National City and the South Bay area to help out at the park.
We arrived at the park in Charlie’s van and we get out and see all kinds of people, marching around, with pick and shovels, gardening tools, from their homes cleaning up the park, then planting stuff.
I noticed a lot of elders from the community, taking part in the Varullo, folks like Laura Rodriguez, Mike Amador Jr, Pelon Johnston, even, the señoras from Guadalupe church. They along with the students seem to be drawn to the music.
It was music about struggle and perseverance and it had a great effect on people, it energized them. Little did I realize, at the time, that the heart and soul of that music came from the Sanchez Bros, Chunky and Ricardo. It was music that connected us and a bond was formed lasting more than 40 years.
It’s easy, when describing The Sanchez Brothers, to just focus on the activism that their music has come to represent. They are much more than that; both are very accomplished musicians, arrangers and composers. They each can play multiple instruments at a very high level, they can sight read or just hear a song and get it within seconds. They are great at improvising, taking a song wherever, they want it to go. They connect with each other, in performances, with a special bond, an intuitive thing that only close siblings understand. It also is useful to convey displeasure with each other.
Over the years they have performed with many of the greats including Los Lobos, Flaco Jimenez, Santiago Jimenez, Freddy Fender, Texas Tornados, Texmaniacs, Pete Seeger and other iconic performers like Rosie Hamlin from Rosie and the Originals and Irma “Cui Cui “Rangel from the group “Califas”, plus many others too numerous to mention. They have been the subjects of plays and documentaries about their activism and mentoring of young performers, and Cesar Chavez.
We always expect great things from them and they willing give it. Our applause is important, but surely not enough, when you think about them, beyond their music and activism.
I have tried to appreciate the other parts of their lives. Chunky for example is a partner to his wife Isabel; he is a grandfather, father to his six children, a brother to Virgie, Ralph and Ricardo, an uncle and cousin to many in the Imperial Valley. He has been involved with the Encanto Little League for more than 25 years, he is a diehard Charger fan. He collects baseball cards and he has a great sense of humor and wit. It’s around humor, that we clicked, actually it’s around humor and restaurants, that we bonded. Together with Logan Heights veteranos like Gilbert Reyes, Bobby Estrada, Mac Colmenero, Howard Holman, Artie Martinez and others, we formed the nucleus of the Cuatro Milpas advisory board, with the sworn duty of making sure, the standards set by Dona Petra and Don Nati, were upheld. We did this by us eating there on a regular basis. We had all gained valuable experience by performing a similar service for Mary Naranjo at the “Old New Mexico Café”.
Our lunches were filled with laughter at others and ourselves; we would spend our time “Capping on each other”, which in today jargon means the “Dozens or Slammin”. There were no sacred cows, only hungry cows, as someone remarked.
In fact, it was at one of the lunches that I started to call Chunky, “Chunkenstein”, cause he was wearing a pair of what looked to be giant black industrial boots and I remarked to him “Hey Chunkie, Universal Studios called they need the boots back, Frankenstein has a eye appointment”. Since then, in my irreverence, I have called Chunky Sanchez, -Chunkenstein. I also have called him Ray,Ray, Raymond, Ramoncito, Clubbie, Clankie, Faacundo. He always answers with a smile and the middle finger salute to my humor.
Their musical ability still impresses me. They continue mentoring new generations of performers.
Even after, having seen them perform many, many times, I still get moved by how they do two songs one called “Guajira-Me voy pal pueblo”, written by the Cuban composer Merceditas Valdez and popularized by Los Panchos in 1947. It was one of their mother’s favorite song and she was such a strong influence on them musically, and the way they do it with so much feeling, that it comes off as a tribute to her. The other, is a song called “Rawhide “from the 1959 TV show, sung by Frankie Laine. They do it with the guitars a blazing to the cattle and cowboy sounds, it is done so well, you could swear you are hearing Frankie Laine.
Keep doing it Ray,Ray.