National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of 2013 National Heritage Fellow Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez

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Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez sits in a wheelchair, holding a guitar and smiling, in front of a large group of communitiy members and performers wearing colorful and elaborate Aztec costumes.

Ramon Chunky Sanchez 2013. Photo by Tom Pich

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Chicano musician and culture bearer Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, recipient of a 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

A musician, songwriter, educator, and activist, Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez became a cultural icon and leader of the Chicano community. Born to Mexican immigrant parents in the California desert town of Blythe, Sánchez was taught traditional Mexican music by his mother and uncles who sang and played guitar. Both of his parents were farm laborers, and he himself worked in the fields, so Sánchez learned early on in life about the struggles in the farm labor movement. As he listened and learned, he began to compose his own music—with a bicultural influence and often socio-political messages.

A multi-talented musician, Sánchez not only composed, but also sang and played ten different instruments. He was the lead vocalist for the Mexican-Chicano folklore group Los Alacranes (The Scorpions), which he co-founded with his brother Ricardo, recording their first album in 1977. Using it as a platform to further the Chicano civil rights and farm laborers movements, his music expressed the concerns and causes of the community with the rich Chicano musical traditions. One of his best-known pieces, "Chicano Park Samba," narrated the struggle for and successful creation of Chicano Park in San Diego.

As important as his role as a musician, Sánchez was equally notable for his role as a community elder and mentor. He worked with local youth in myriad capacities -- including as an Encanto Little League coach, educator, youth center director, and gang intervention counselor.

In an October 2014 podcast with the NEA’s Josephine Reed, Sánchez said, “I wrote the song ‘Chicano Park’ many years ago, and to this day I have people tell me, “Play me that song.” It amazes me. That song’s still around. It’s still alive. It’s still affecting people. That’s the power of art and culture. It stays with you for a long time. It develops you as a human being. It gives you character. . . The most important thing is to realize what your mission is and then fulfill it. And ours was to play and to march for those people that were facing injustices in the courts and the schools, in the hospitals, everywhere you could think of. That’s where our mission was.”

For more information on Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez, including a full bio, podcast, and a portrait of him by Tom Pich, visit arts.gov

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