Saturday, July 07, 2018

Education of a Chicano Part II College and Community By Antonio SolisGomez

I transferred to Cal Sate LA in the winter of 1962 and chose American Studies as my major. I wanted a well rounded education and would have preferred a major that would have allowed me to take classes in math, the natural sciences and in the humanities and still graduate in four years but nothing of the sort was available. I had read C.P. Snow’s book, The Two Cultures, wherein he talks about science and math being arbitrarily separated from the humanities, much to the detriment of society with both camps ignorant of one another.

I dove hard into my classes in Literature, History, and the Social Sciences and loved what I was learning. I was particularly impressed by the European authors such as Malraux, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Sartre, Camus, Hesse, Proust, de Tocqueville, Thomas Mann, Bronte, James Joyce, Max Weber and the American authors such as Faulkner, Salinger, Tennessee Williams, O’Neil, Twain, Hemmingway, Bf Skinner, Daniel Bell, Maslow, Henry Miller, McLuhan, C. Wright Mills, Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Baldwin, Piri Thomas and Thoreau.

What I found of special interest was how my mind was expanding to take in these new ideas such as existentialism, transcendentalism, the objectivism of Ayn Rand, and yet how some authors eluded my understanding, not having the background or experience to grasp their meaning, in particular the Education of Henry Adams, Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be and St. Teresa’s Interior Castle.

What I realized was that the expansion of understanding is a spiral growing from something small like the base of a tornado to it’s towering top riding the clouds and upwards towards what, infinity?
Demonstartion in Los Angeles aganist the House UnAmerican Activities Committee

I was still living in Lincoln Heights with my grandmother and working at the Los Angeles Times Boys Club and with the Los Angeles City Schools at an afterschool playground. I didn’t have a car so I rode a bicycle to Cal State and to my two jobs. I never had time for college activities other than to squeeze in a game of handball every so often.

This new intellectual growth was alien to my barrio friends and to my girlfriend, who was not interested in education nor in books nor in the foreign movies that I wanted to see such as Woman of the Dunes, The Dolce Vita, the films of Bergman. I was desperate to converse about books and ideas but I was not able to make any friends in college. I found it hard to strike up conversations with strangers, not easily overcoming the years of being stoic and aloof. Of course, I did meet some other students but most students were attending college to obtain a degree, to pursue a career, not to learn, not to be an educated person nor to be on an equal footing with GRINGOS. The later was my secret mission that I had never spoken out loud to anyone, not even to myself. Intellectually I realized that I was not what the dominant society had ascribed for me. I had read Franz Fanon’s book Wretched of the Earth and knew about the process of oppression. But it seemed that low self- esteem was ingrained in my cellular structure and I was having a difficult time eradicating it.

Despite my newfound intellectual persona, family and my cultural roots continued to be the dominant factor in my life. I was a Chicano through and through and my girlfriend provided that aspect and at the middle of the spring semester we married and she moved in with my grandmother and me.

That summer after the semester ended, I took a job at the Price Pfister foundry in Lincoln Heights that manufactured kitchen and bathroom faucets. I thought I would continue working, finishing my last year as a part-time student but the work at the plant was truly horrific. I felt as if I had like fallen into one of the circles of Dante’s inferno and knew that I couldn’t continue under any circumstances. T

That fall I bought a Honda 50 as riding a bike was just getting to be too much with an increasing workload at school and time for family. MPG for my Honda 50 was 225. Heck I could ride all month for 25 cents! Naturally such a stingy gasoline ride was not long for the USA market and now is only available in Asia.

I graduated on a Friday in June 1964, bought a VW Bug on Saturday and went to work at the Bureaus of Public Assistance in South Central Los Angeles. During that time I developed some close friendships with some African American men, one of who was a bisexual man who had a coterie of gay men and women artists and musicians. There was also an African American man at work who was a poet and he introduced me to Langston Hughes. Finally my hunger for intellectual conversation was being met and during the next four years, I spent as much time as possible with these most creative people.

All that changed in 1967 when I went to work in East Los Angeles for the first time. I had left the Public Assistance agency to work as a social worker with the Catholic Archdiocese Head Start program but when they gave up their federal funding I went to work for the Council on Mexican American Affairs (CMAA) and to my good fortune so did Arturo Flores. Arturo and I struck-up a conversation right away, as if we were old friends. We were in many ways kindred spirits, both having attended Lincoln High School, both lovers of literature and ideas and to top it off both revered Dionysus, God of Wine. Wine in my youth was for the winos outside Dan’s Liquor store, the 25 cents bottles of Tokay. But that changed my first year of college when I read the beautiful poems of Li Po, many of which lauded wine and left me wanting to experience what he had. I had been a wine drinker since and Arturo was even more passionate about wine than I was. A friendship was thus cemented.

Arturo, a descendant of a California land grant family was a true scholar and we spent many nights after work talking about books and about the lack of good writing in publications like La Raza Newspaper, whose articles had a lightly veiled didacticism. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Arturo had talked about the very same subject with Ralph Lopez, another Lincoln High School graduate and like Arturo had majored in Literature. Ralph had once been the playground director at the local park and I would see him playing basketball with the kids. He was a terrific athlete.

One day Arturo invited me to a meeting with Ralph Lopez to discuss the formation of a literary magazine and I was aglow. Serendipitously the meeting was to be held at Rudy Salinas’ house. Rudy and I had stayed in touch, often playing handball and going to protests and demonstrations such as the House Un-American Activities or fair housing for African Americans. He shared an apartment with Pete Fernandez and Gil Gonzales and the day of the meeting they were present. Another person at that initial meeting was Frank Sifuentes. All these men were working with Ralph at a Neighborhood Youth Corp, a War on Poverty Program, hence the invitation to the meeting.
Ralph Lopez Photo by Oscar Castillo

To be among these men, all who grew up in a barrio and who had graduated from college, was for me a homecoming, a return to my roots for the intellectual stimulation that I craved, along with the uniqueness of being a Chicano. Here the fullness of my person was free to romp and share experiences from childhood with full understanding, share the beauty in the nuances of Spanish and Caló and yet be able to speak about art and literature and about ideas gained from a college education. When someone penned a fake placa El Geometro from Euclid Heights, everyone laughed. When someone said did you hear about the low-rider who spotted a Japanese woman friend and said hop on esa we all marveled at the cleverness.
Frank Sifuentes & Geroge Meneses photo by Oscar Castillo

Later this core group added Sergio Hernandez, Gilbert Lujan (Magu), Oscar Castillo, Geroge Menesses, Art Camargo and we began publishing Con Safos; A Reflection of Life in the Barrio, a small literary magazine that gained popularity and momentum because of El Movimiento the Chicano’s quest for self identity and Civil Rights.

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