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'Chunky' documentary examines Chicana/o culture, activism

Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez
August 10, 2012

How can music and art be used as a vehicle for building greater tolerance for cultural differences? How can we make the culture and history of the U.S. border region understandable to the average American?

These are a few of the timely themes highlighted in a documentary film by award-winning filmmaker Paul Espinosa, who is a professor in ASU's School of Transborder Studies. His film, "Chunky: The Making of a Social Activist," tells the story of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, a southern California musician, composer and community activist.

“This documentary examines how Sanchez’ personal development as an activist is interwoven with the broader history of the Chicana/o community in the U.S. and the unique cultural dynamics of the U.S.-Mexican border,” says Espinosa.

Influenced by the social unrest he witnessed in his youth as both a child of farm working parents and as a student during the turbulent 1960s, Chunky became a central figure in the early days of the Chicana/o movement and continues to be instrumental in today’s immigrant rights protests.

Chunky's music captures the spirit of a generation driven to make significant changes in their lives and their communities. His music doesn't just reflect the struggles within the community since the 1970s, it has come to constitute and embody these struggles, actually shaping their trajectory, becoming synonymous with community pride, ethnic empowerment, and local autonomy in powerful ways that generate emotion and cultural connections.

The Institute for Humanities Research and the School of Transborder Studies will present a screening, Oct. 1, of a work in progress of the documentary, followed by lunch and a panel discussion featuring Espinosa and several scholars advising on the film including Luis Alvarez, associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego; Estevan Cesar Azcona, adjunct assistant professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston; and Michelle Tellez, assistant professor in ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

The screening and discussion will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Alumni Lounge (room 202), in the Memorial Union on ASU’s Tempe campus. The event is free and open to the public, but admission is by R.S.V.P. only.

Espinosa has been involved with producing films for more than 30 years. He specializes in documentary and dramatic films focused on the U.S.-Mexico border region. Espinosa's major national production credits include "California and the American Dream," "…and the earth did not swallow him," "The Lemon Grove Incident," "The Border," "Taco Shop Poets," and "The U.S.-Mexican War: 1846-1848." His films have been presented at festivals around the country and have won many awards, including eight Emmys, five CINE Golden Eagle awards, and a Golden Mike award.

Espinosa and Michelle Tellez are the recipients of an IHR Seed Grant award for this project. The IHR competitive Seed Grant aims to launch new projects while also enhancing grant proposals with the goal of increasing the opportunity for external grant funding.  

To R.S.V.P., visit For more information, contact the IHR at 480-965-3000 or