Latino Bookcase: The Last Chicano: A Mexican American Experience”
From street gangs in the barrios to radical strikes on campus and the arduous aftermath. The Last Chicano is a vivid and valuable first-hand account of the Chicano experience and the search for identity in America.”
— San Francisco Chronicle
“The Last Chicano” (AuthorHouse), by Manuel Ruben Delgado, chronicles the Mexican American experience through a man who lived through a crucial time. He grew up in San Bernardino, California and because it so mirrors my own life and formative years, as a first and second generation Mexican American, I have always been a fan of this book and the author.
When the popular Mitla’s Restaurant in San Bernardino, CA celebrated it’s 75th anniversary, an old high school friend, Art Guerrero, bought a ticket to support his involvement with the Mariachi Youth Sinfonia which was performing that evening.
When I learned that Manuel Ruben Delgado was to be at this event, I went on Facebook and introduced myself and received an invitation to meet in person.
I was honored to be seated next to the one and only Manuel Ruben Delgado!
I had given him a heads-up the night before that I was a writer for Latin Heat Magazine and that I only had two questions for him, if he didn’t mind. After all, we had only really met on a Facebook link and I wanted to be respectful of his time.
Delgado did manage to quickly introduce me to the gente (folks) that were seated around his table where I was also seated. He then emptied his chair and left our center table without another word.
“The Last Chicano” has been a must-read in Chicano Study classes since it was first published in 2009. Ruben says that it is not “strictly a memoir, but more of a history and analysis of the cultural and political forces that confronted the first and second generation Mexican Americans in San Bernardino, California,” his home town.
The book has gained critical acclaim and is a true rags-to-riches tale of a gang member, running the barrios of San Bernardino, who rose to prominence the 1960’s. After not graduating from high school, Ruben managed to finally get into UC Berkeley where he participated in Chicano protests and eventually earned his law degree from Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Hall.
San Bernardino, California holds a large part of our nation’s Chicano history of protests and racial integration — a history that was left out of the textbooks. In 1859, the Santa Fe Railroad laid down both tracks there. The town became infamous for it’s red-light district and Western justice.
During Manuel’s absencia, I meet his good friend Jose Luis Aguiar who had traveled up from the Coachella Valley. When I explained to Jose Luis that this was the first time meeting Manuel because of his book, Jose told me, “It’s a great book. Once you start reading it you can’t put it down.” Reflectively, I found that to be true. I finished the almost 300 page book in two-and-a-half days. I was fascinated. It took me back to the Mexicano days of the Westside of San Bernardino that I grew up in, in the company of my Grandmother and the failed ideal of segregation that I never noticed before as a boy within the city limits. The middle-class Anglos were located Northeast of the CA-215 Freeway, and the poorer Mexicanos were West and Southwest of the freeway along with the Negritos.
His story brought back memories of the early San Bernardino that I knew.
Where did Manuel go to?
At the table, I also meet Mark Delgado, Manuel’s son. We talked and I told him where our family home had been for the past 52 years. Mark asks, “Really? What Elementary school did you go to?” When I tell him, he asks, “How old are you?” “53,” I answer. “Well, I’m 50 and I went there too.” I tell Mark, “Then we were there together. When I was in 6th grade, you were in 3rd grade.” Small world. Meanwhile, I have been breaking the ice with Jose Luis Aguilar as we begin to discuss politics and how the past has formed the present for Latinos. I soon discover that Jose Luis is also well-educated, opinionated, and well-versed in rhetoric and ideals.
Jose Luis vents his very astute political views of how Latinos are currently still perceived as second-class citizens. I hear it all the time. Jose tells me, “As soon as they hear that I am in the agricultural field, they automatically perceive me as a gardener or a field worker. Not that those of us that work as field workers are any less than any other Latino… but I can’t stand that we automatically get looked down upon.”
Jose Luis’s stories began to take me beyond Manuel’s book, where Manuel left off as he settled in Baja, California after his retirement. Then a new tale begins about my cultura and what Manuel led his friend Jose Luis to discover in the Sierra de San Francisco, the montanas of Baja, Cali. “We traveled by burro with a guide that Manuel introduced me to because he had been there before to see the paintings.”
Where the heck is Manuel? I ask myself as Jose continued his tale. “We rode up to a mountainside that you cannot drive to and I see a 30-foot snake with the gente standing on top of it to symbolize how their sierra sustained their life. I mean, that painting probably looked the same as it did over the past 7,000 years!”
Then, I really impressed him by telling him that Latin Heat has been publishing for the past 20 years and that I’ll send him a link. These are the eyes that matter to inspire, propel, and reflect upon our historia.
I also discover that Jose Luis is a graduate of Cal State, San Diego and had also participated in the Chicano movimientos of the 60’s. I asked Jose Luis how he sees Latinos perceived in today’s media, particularly in films and TV. “Non-existent! We are nonexistent. I think it is even worse than it was in the 50’s!,” he states.
He shared his memories as a kid. “I used to see Latinos all the time in movies. We were in all of those John Wayne movies. Now, we are lucky to see anyone that looks like us. Even in the 80’s we had that Latino cop, Ponch… what’s his name? Erik Estrada. Now, all I’ve seen lately is that hot woman on that TV show where she fights with the other women on her street, Eva [Longoria] something?”
This spoke to me a lot about how our own raza perceives our representation within the media — namely the largest reaching platform worldwide: television. Despite the 1.2 trillion dollar global purchasing power of the U.S. Latino consumer, we are grievously underrepresented as almost nonexistent within the stories of the small-screen and even less upon the larger screen!
Manuel’s book touches upon the incendiary ideals of the 60’s that led to widespread changes within the California University’s admissions policies. This included a more ethnically diverse student body in addition to more ethnically diverse studies within the UC curriculum. This was not easily won. Although peacefully protested, it came at the expense of physically abused, arrested student protesters who brought that change about for our children who can now look back and thank these individuals for their efforts to give their sangre and preserve their culture.
The insight and the experience of the changing times of the 60’s within Manuel Ruben Delgado’s book, “The Last Chicano” demonstrates what it was like to bring about a change. A change in the status quo of University life, until a Brown or Black or Red or Yellow voice shouted in protest! They were resolved to be heard and eventually they were. After, [former] California Governor Ronald Reagan said to his National Guard reserves, “Well then, give them what they want,” and the guards began to spill sangre during their arrests. Eventually the student protests won the changes that were inevitably pre-destined.
I had Manuel back at the table now and told him that we had discovered that his son and I had gone to school together, though three years apart. The surprise disarmed him at last and he asked me, “So you said that you had two questions to ask me? What were they?” I asked him the recycled question that I had asked Jose Luis who leaned in to hear his friend’s answer against the loud music:
Adrian Tafoya: How do you see Latinos portrayed in today’s media, such as in Film or TV?
Manuel Ruben Delgado: Not at all. I don’t really see us portrayed in any mainstream media at all. And when they do show us (Latinos) they are still the same old stereotypes and not just ordinary people. I mean, we all have jobs… different jobs and working at different things. Why can’t they just show that?
AT: How do you think that the Latino vote will influence the upcoming election given the state of today’s politics?
MRD: During the 60’s Chicano protests, the radicals, the moderates, and the conservatives engaged. The radicals kicked down the doors and opened them to where they are now. Now today, you have some really young and intelligent Chicanos that were put there by what we did in the 60’s. That mayor from San Antonio, Texas with his beautiful kids (Julian) Castro came from a middle-class family and graduated from Harvard. His twin brother is also educated and running for Congress. Hopefully they will realize what we did to pave their way there?
AT: Now that I’ve got you talking Manuel, is there anything that you wish that you could have added to your book?
MRD: Yes. Later, I found out that after I had left [San Bernardino] Valley College where we began the Chicano protests on campus, some of our supportive professors were censured. They were those visionary professors that agreed with us. I wish I could have explored that further, but I found all this out after the book was already published.
It was an honor to dine with Manuel because our paths were so closely intertwined and our mutual visions have been intertwined within our own individual fields. They exist upon a common ground that we’ve shared beyond our neighborhoods and our ideals. But that was also the basic foundation of both of our causas, la Raza. Manuel asks in his book, “Am I the last Chicano?” No Manuel, we are.
–Adrian Tafoya, Class of 1982, Cal State University San Bernardino