The Arts

Songs for Social change

By Leslie Weeden / April–May 2023
April 11th, 2023
Image of Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez at a United Farm Workers rally with César Chávez.
Sanchez, second from left, at a United Farm Workers rally with César Chávez, center.Courtesy of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez

The latest documentary from Paul Espinosa ’72, Singing Our Way to Freedom, profiles Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez (1951-2016), a musician, composer, activist, and cultural icon. The son of Mexican immigrants, Sanchez was born in Blythe, California, where he learned to play guitar from his mother and uncles, and like his parents became a farm laborer, picketing with César Chávez for better pay. Realizing that his often politically charged music could inspire his community, he became a fixture at rallies for the United Farm Workers Union and at schools, prisons, and political events. In 2013, he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. The film was shown nationwide on PBS last fall as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. For more than 40 years, Espinosa has been making documentaries and narrative films for PBS focused on the U.S.-Mexico border area (The Lemon Grove Incident; The Hunt for Pancho Villa; The U.S.-Mexican War: 1846-1848, and many others), which have won eight Emmy Awards. The former anthropology concentrator is professor emeritus in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University and president of Espinosa Productions.

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April–May 2023