Oral History Center Class of 2019


Going to Berkeley had been a life-changing experience for me, and also Candy, so we were and we were still somewhat connected—going back to football games and a few things like that. So we decided to set up a scholarship program. And so then I learned about America. My father explained, “Look, we’re not in Germany anymore. We’re in a new country where you can talk if you wish and it’s all right. Nothing’s going to happen.” Excellence does feed on itself. I mean, people want to come here because it’s a great place and it’s a great place because top people want to come here. So there is a flywheel effect, that’s for sure. Well, it was the court at its height. Change and height. Yeah, great social change, and, in fact, permanent social change. And the first serious complaint I received was from a professor who was giving a seminar in the main library and suddenly, the blackboard in front of him got hit by bullets, actually embedded themselves in the blackboard, and he came to me the next day, and I was able to find out that in fact, a contingent of the San Francisco Police were chasing demonstrators from North Gate into the campus and were firing over their heads. I’ve learned—and I’m sure many other people who have done science and engineering have learned— that scientific activities don’t tell you what questions to ask. They give you answers— or partial answers—but the questions to ask are part of the human process. There’s an understanding in the community that that this is a way to be able to sustain failure, and that in doing it, if the idea is good and you keep your eyes open, you’re likely to discover something significant. So, this was a time in which you could really say the statewide example of the Coastal Act gave local citizens, ordinary people, the idea that we could act, take governmental action through an initiative, and change the future of our community, and protect it. We began to think a little bit bigger. When Ellen Harris mentioned this to me about doing the entire coast, then we started thinking, well, that’s what we ought to do. That was my purpose in life. The two major things was protecting as much of the beauty of nature that was in jeopardy, the coast being one of them; and the other was the environmental education aspect. And we have been making a compelling case with regards to the condition of labor, the condition of our democracy, and the condition of civil rights is integral to environmental protection. We were pissed off; we were angry. You killed him? And he got killed by his own people for wanting to go home. So, you know, that’s my story. I don’t know, the army probably has a different one. Their training is to act, not necessarily to think about acceptable forms of dissent. With regard to the twenty-seven, today I see their action as being quite courageous. At the time, there were probably about 35,000 students at UT Austin, and I’m not exaggerating; there were probably like about a hundred Mexican Americans. And so to be in a world where you’re supported and nurtured and protected by people just like you, into a world that was entirely different, was almost like—there’s no other way to put it— it was like being transported to an alien world. First, I was alone. I was the only Chicano with a PhD in the county. So it was lonely, in terms of who to sit and talk to about what I was doing. When I was trying to write papers and trying to work, and I was at Stanford and was going crazy and felt stressful, then I would think of my mother and the stresses that she experienced and I thought, okay, I can do this. I don’t have to worry about feeding six children, and and working in the fields. I’m getting back to the idea of having a program that emphasizes Chicano studies, but that does not segregate itself from the other already-established units. It’s not just the students that need to learn Chicano studies. It’s our colleagues that need to learn Chicano studies. Part of my payback to honor my family and honor where I’m from and all of that was to produce something that documented, you know, my family’s history in Southern California. It isn’t at all surprising that he was very interested in seeing that there was activities similar to those of the National Park Service over an area which later became East Bay parks. Working for the park district was the great part of my life. Throughout the whole—there was a lot of room for innovation. And that’s my growth, so, I feel like it it served me. My employment there did wonders for me. It gives people who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford to go like Yosemite or other places like that, they can come to a park which is within driving distance, or bus distance from their houses, and enjoy an outdoor activity. He started to get to know the East Bay, and it was love at first sight. So he started out taking pictures and walking his dog, and he was a volunteer for the park district. They were really impressed with his photographs. His photographs are still on the wall at the park district headquarters. I hope they remember that some good people, from a foreign country, found so much to this life here. And the hardships they went through, and they did it all by the skin of their teeth. I really didn’t get to know Bev too well until she started setting up the gathering of the elders kind of thing. I supported it by having my students volunteer on it. And at the initial part, there weren’t enough Indians to do it. Now you go out there, almost everything is being done by an Ohlone. The park district started to realize it was time to focus a little bit more on women. So, it was in 1976. And it—you know—it took kind of a long time to get around to that, but change was happening, and it seemed, as you look around, the park district was very progressive in that way, I guess. That’s where the strength in the district is because the staff knocks themselves out, they really do a good job, you know. On the whole. They really do. And that’s why I think the people, public, appreciates us. And I hope that doesn’t stop. There’s this Zen of wine appreciation that encompasses who you’re with, what you’re doing, what stage of evolution you are in the process of learning about wines and its enjoyment and experience. And I also wanted to break away from what had been done here in the past. So I needed to buy land that had not been planted before. I wanted to carve out this thing from the raw land and begin totally fresh. And the crescendo, the energy of the harvest itself as the apex of this growing season. It was a wonderful business. So it got me, and I didn’t even know it got me. It was one of the most haunting paintings that I’ve worked on because it’s the only self-portrait that I’ve ever worked on. There’s the artist, who I’m trying to do my best by, staring right back out at me. A lot of the Chicano artists were gay, but people didn’t feature it necessarily or they were closeted. Members of MEChA, the Brown Berets, the student groups, there were gay and bisexual and lesbian participants, but they were sort of on the down low or in the closet. I was all about wanting to kind of blow that up. I ended up making a pretty good career out of being a dissident. I’m—I’m also proud that I hope that encourages other people to take similar kinds of risks, and not to sort of knuckle under to the orthodoxy. And because of the article that came out in New York in The Village Voice— half of it was about fashion and the other half was about herbal, magical herbal formulas— I got a phone call in 1969, asking me if I could write a book. Well, of course I can! I really felt I had a great opportunity to contribute in a different way. And that’s one of the things I really wanted people to know, is that you don’t have to follow the the path that you thought you had to follow. There are other paths that can work.

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