How did a young Mexican American kid from a small rural town in the middle of nowhere become a leading musician of the Chicano civil rights movement? How did he learn about the power of music and imagination to take us on a journey towards freedom? “Singing Our Way to Freedom” chronicles the life of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez from his humble beginnings as a farmworker in Blythe, California to the dramatic moment when he received one of his nation’s highest musical honors at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. As a young man in the 1960s, Chunky wrestled with issues of identity, self-determination and justice. He joined the picket lines in the California fields with Cesar Chavez, demanding justice and better wages for farmworkers. Gradually he discovered that music could be a powerful weapon in creating social change and overcoming prejudice and racism. He would eventually become Cesar Chavez’s favorite musician. Chunky’s journey is a remarkable lens on a time when young Mexican Americans became Chicanos, inspired to use collective action to improve the lives of their communities. His activism was ignited in college with the community takeover of a section of public land in San Diego that became Chicano Park. Later he performed on Joan Baez’s first Spanish language record and eventually formed a band, Los Alacranes Mojados (The “Wetback” Scorpions). Their first album included an iconic photo of the band crossing the barbwire fence at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana. Today that fence is a militarized zone. Composing and performing compelling songs at schools, prisons, political events, quinceañeras and weddings, Chunky struggled to use art to build community. He learned how to employ honesty, humor and music to inspire folks to stand up and speak truth to power. His arc of transformation from marginalized farm kid to charismatic social activist shows how one person can mobilize people to change the world through developing their sense of purpose. In his songs and in his life, Chunky offers an inspiring narrative, reminding us that the battle for freedom has to be fought anew by every generation.
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