Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez was born to Mexican immigrant parents in the desert town of Blythe, California. He grew up nourished by the Mexican ballads his mother sang to him while she strummed her guitar. As a teen, he joined the farm worker struggle and walked picket lines for Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers Union.
In 1969, he was recruited along with other farm worker youths to attend San Diego State University. There, he would develop his talents as a musician and culture worker. For the next 35 years, Chunky Sanchez would become the unofficial bard of San Diego’s Chicano community. He and his Mexican folk quartet Los Alacranes (Scorpions) shunned mainline commercial venues, opting instead to perform at street fairs, rallies, fundraisers, and family celebrations.
“We do cumbia and norteno styles, with accordion and guitars and traditional folklore instruments,” he says. The band was originally known as Los Alacranes Mojados, aka the Wetback Scorpions.
“We used that negative term among our own people. We tried to give it a positive connotation through the music. After a while, we cut the name down because it was too long, and besides that, we kinda like to joke around. People ask us, well, how come you’re not the mojados any more? I say, ‘cause we got amnesty.’”
Sanchez has written songs about social struggles such as “Chicano Park,” humorous pieces such as “Chorizo Sandwich,” and socioilogical overviews like “Rising Souls.” “We began with a lot of activist music, from the United Farm workers to the Chicano movement. Things of that nature, protest music from Mexico and South America. And then we got into some folk lore, a lot of old music, and we began to write a lot of our own stuff. Songs like were also dealing with certain issues and topics in the community and in everyday life. ‘Educate, don’t incarcerate’ is the coda from ‘Rising Souls.’ Songs about every day scenarios. What am I trying to say – chingaderas? You know, like goofing around and shit like that.”
Sanchez is also an elder in his community and an expert on gang prevention and community organization. His first original Latino hit “Chicano Park Samba” was a musical tribute to the famous Logan Heights Community Park takeover on April 22, 1970. The roots of Los Alacranes go back to the activist 1970s and the creation of Chicano Park.
Likeminded L.A.-based compatriots Los Lobos were brought by Los Alacranes to San Diego to play some of their earliest local shows.
“Unlike other bands, we’re available during the week. There’s always one or two of us who are unemployed, so we’re available. We’ve done clubs, restaurants, a lot of house parties, and a lot of social organizations.”
They shared the stage with longtime L.A. compatriots David Hidalgo and Louie Perez (both of Los Lobos) on April 28, 2013, at Adams Avenue Unplugged. Later that year, Sanchez was awarded one of nine National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowships.
Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez passed away in 2016.