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San Diego Musician Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez Honored Locally, Nationally

Video by Katie Schoolov

A San Diego musician and Chicano rights activist is being honored locally and nationally, with the naming of a school auditorium in Logan Heights and a prestigious arts fellowship.

— A local charter school is dedicating its newly renovated auditorium Wednesday, naming it for a legendary San Diego musician and community activist, Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez. Just last week, he was also announced as a recipient of the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez plays his guitar inside the auditorium at King-Chavez Academy.

Inside the auditorium at Logan Heights’ King-Chavez Academy, Sanchez played a song he wrote called "Rising Souls" and dedicated it "to all the kids at King-Chavez."

Sanchez is a resident artist at the charter school, where the auditorium was renovated before being renamed for him. Its walls are now covered in bright murals depicting historic people from social justice movements.

"For the kids, the important thing is that this is history on the walls for them," Sanchez said. "All they have to do is look up there and see history and understand, if they read a book about Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez, they’ll say, ‘Oh yea, we have a mural of those guys at our school.’”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

The newly renovated auditorium at King-Chavez Academy includes murals by Chicano artist Salvador Barajas.

Chicano artist Salvador Barajas painted the murals inside the newly named Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez Auditorium. They were funded by a school improvement grant for King–Chavez Arts Academy.

"When they see this, they don’t just see a wall with some painting, but hopefully they see me, Chunky Sanchez, somebody who cares about them," he said. "And that’s what school’s ought to be."

A younger Sanchez indeed appears in the mural. He’s been playing music and advocating for Chicano rights in San Diego for more than 40 years, dating back to his time performing on the picket lines with United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez appears as his younger self in the murals inside the newly renovated auditorium at King-Chavez Academy.

“I remember being on the picket lines, things were very boring,” Sanchez said of his time marching with Chavez. “So one day, we decided to bring a couple of guitars, so we brought them. Lo and behold, we began to make some noise and we noticed that the spirit of the farm workers began to elevate.”

Now, Sanchez is being recognized nationally. He was announced as one of this year’s nine recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowships, becoming the first San Diegan to receive the prestigious fellowship. But Sanchez said the award isn’t just for him.

"I was very honored, but not just thinking about myself, Sanchez said. "My family, my grandkids, my wife, and also all the wonderful people here at King Chavez that have beared with me through hard times."

In September, the 61-year-old Sanchez will travel to Washington D.C. for the first time, where he’ll be awarded the $25,000 fellowship, earning him a place among fellow winners and musical legends like B.B. King and Bill Monroe.

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