The Last Chicano is a true story of alienation, family heroes, social defiance, radical politics and fate, told through real life experiences, from San Bernardino’s Mexican barrio to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, ending with the discovery of family ties to the Mexican Revolution.
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The story begins with the colorful history of San Bernardino, California in the 1940s, as the Delgado family struggles to achieve the American Dream: the story of Delgado’s uncles, Zoot Suit wearing Pachucos and professional boxers, who were his first heroes; of life as a Vato Loco, narrowly avoiding state prison at the age of 17; of a life threatening disability that affords him the opportunity to attend the University of California, Berkeley.
At Berkeley, he joins the Mexican American Student Confederation and becomes
a leader of the Third World Liberation Front strike for Ethnic Studies, the longest, most violent student strike in California history. But the passions of the 1960s subside and, disillusioned, he moves to Los Angeles where he lives a life of dissolution.
Twelve years later he returns to academia as a Chicano polemicist,this time in Teacher Education and teaching Political Science. The story ends with a trip to Zacatecas, Mexico where Delgado discovers that his father’s family played key roles in implementing the new socialist Constitution of 1917, serving as Mayors, Governors, labor leaders and State Senators.
When I saw my grandfather’s photograph my heart swelled with pride. This is what I had been missing all my life. Now I knew who I was and why my life had turned out as it did. This is what the Zapata poster was trying to tell me all those years ago. Looking back, maybe it was fate that saved me from the consequences of life as a Vato Loco and the ravages of Valley Fever. Maybe it was fate that sent me on this particular life path. — to walk in my grandfather’s footsteps both figuratively and literally.
When I told El Profesor about this, he looked down pensively at Indalecio’s photo and said, “Dicen que sangre busca sangre, y que aveces brinca una generacion.” (They say blood seeks blood and sometimes skips a generation) I see that happening again in my own family with my granddaughter Jamael, whose favorite saying is: Activism rocks!
I asked Profesor Hurtado if Indalecio, Jose and Jesus Delgado were Communists. “Los tres eran agraristas — Zapatistas. Pero Jesus fue Comunista encendido.” (They were agrarians but Jesus was a fiery Communist)
I confess that I wanted my grandfather to be someone I could be proud of. And as this man became real I put him on a pedestal, a grandfather who was on the right side of history. What more could I want? I’ve often been asked where I got my empathy for the poor and the oppressed. My father never talked about such things even though I saw him as poor, struggling all his life to achieve the American Dream — and I wondered if Mama Cuca ever told my dad about his father.
Knowing my grandfather was a secular progressive and revolutionary, in a way, validates my own involvement in the Chicano movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. But seeing my grandfather’s photo made him human and, of course, imperfect. My thoughts turned to Mama Cuca. She must have been one of many young girls attracted to men like Indalecio: wealthy, educated, a public figure. And he, like others I’ve known, often gave into or took advantage of these situations. Indalecio was 25 years old when he knew my grandmother. She was twenty years old. Were they in love? Did my grandmother tell him she was pregnant? Did he reject her? This part of the story could be heart breaking. Some things we’ll never know, exactly. According to my cousin Julia, my grandmother told her family she couldn’t name the father because he was married. We know now that he wasn’t.
Whatever one might think of their relationship, it brings us back to the beginning of this journey. The affair between Refugio Medina and Indalecio Delgado that produced my father is what eventually led to the questions: who are we, where did we come from, why are we here in the United States?