By Maria E. Garcia
Linda and Carlos LeGerrette are known in San Diego for their Chicano activism, particularly with farm workers. They started César Chávez clubs in San Diego and have been politically active for decades. They continue to be examples of what can be achieved when working together, not only in marriage but through a shared value system. Like many of us, they have had their share of life’s ups and downs. Both grew up poor but as Linda puts it they weren’t aware of that because everyone around them was also poor.
Linda was born in 1946. Linda’s parents divorced and her mom married a Marine. Her mother’s new marriage resulted in the family moving to North Carolina. Linda fondly remembers living in North Carolina where she lived between her second and sixth-grade school years.
As a little girl she had a great relationship with her father, even after her parents’ divorce. When she reached junior high school, her opinion of him changed. It wasn’t the normal rebellion that many families face at that age. The main factor that contributed to the distance between Linda and her father was his alcoholism.
Her father did “give her away” at her wedding, but they spent years estranged from each other. When Carlos’ mom, Elizabeth, passed away, it was their daughter Tonazine that brought Linda and her father together again. At the reception after Mrs. LeGerrette’s funeral, Tonazine casually mentioned that some of them were going to visit Linda’s dad afterwards. This opened the door for a reconciliation and a new closeness.
Carlos was born in 1943 at Paradise Valley Hospital. Carlos said at that time all the poor kids were born at that hospital. Carlos started his young life in Logan Heights—the Heights. From there the family moved to what he refers to as the Projects—Frontier and Azure Vista Housing. Like many San Diegans, I was not familiar with Azure Vista. It was a 400 unit government housing project built above Sunset Cliffs in 1941. Built as World War II housing, Azure Vista survived until 1957.
That same area today has homes that are worth a million plus dollars. Carlos remembers listening to the sound of the waves at night and being able to get all the lobster and abalone you wanted. Carlos attended thirteen schools during elementary and secondary school as his family moved from one part of the city to another. Until his parents divorced, he had been a very good student. Carlos was the youngest child and the divorce had a tremendous effect on him.
While in the tenth grade, Carlos decided to drop out of school. His mother called a good friend, Dr. Armando Rodriguez, and asked him to talk to Carlos. Dr. Rodriguez did speak with Carlos. At this point, Carlos was attending San Diego High School. The school district had taken the “troublemakers” from all over San Diego and placed them in what amounted to an isolated class.
The morning was spent on the San Diego City College campus taking every “shop” class available (auto, wood, etc). In the afternoon they would cross the street and take general education classes at San Diego High School. Carlos decided he wanted to finish school and transferred to Point Loma High School where he spent his junior and senior years.
Like Linda’s father, Carlos’ father was also an alcoholic. He was a well-known musician and played with various bands all over the city. Carlos said that his father’s worst qualities taught him the best lessons of his life. Seeing his father drink, not come home, spend his paycheck before returning home, as well as the abusive manner in which his father treated his mother, taught him that he did not want to ever treat his partner in that way.
While in high school Linda worked at 31 Flavors, and Carlos worked at Bob Kauffman’s Tux Rentals. In the summer he worked on a small commercial fishing boat. While at a dance at Clairemont Park and Recreation Center, a friend of Carlos pointed Linda out to him, but Carlos was too timid to approach her. Carlos didn’t know that Linda had cut a picture of him out of her sister’s annual and carried it in her wallet even though she did not really know him. She simply thought he was good looking. Carlos went back to his job fishing and Linda returned to high school.
The summer of 1962 when Linda was about to return to her junior year in high school, they encountered each other at a gas station. A year had passed since the no contact dance at Clairemont Park and Recreation Center. Carlos asked Linda for her phone number but she refused to give it to him. The standard in those days was that nice girls did not give their phone number to guys they really didn’t know. Linda eventually gave in and they soon started communicating. Carlos met Linda’s mom, Lillian Rodriguez Jeoleff.
Carlos’ fishing job would take him to San Francisco where he would buy a box of chocolates and send them anonymously to Linda. She said she always knew the chocolates were from Carlos but it would be years before he admitted that he had indeed sent the chocolates. In later years Carlos would send unsigned postcards to Linda’s mom who always wondered who was sending her cards from different points in the United States.
Linda graduated and went to work for a dentist, Joseph Slurasishi. Dr. Slurasishi signed for Linda’s first car loan, and would be supportive of them both in the future. Linda graduated from high school in 1964 and made the decision to enroll at Mesa Community College. A year later, Carlos also enrolled at Mesa College. Linda’s reason for going to Mesa College was academic; Carlos’ reason was Linda. They both knew they had a lot in common, along with the fact that they were both mestizo. Linda is Mexican-Russian. Carlos is Mexican, Pilipino and Chinese.
While working as a fisherman near Monterrey, California, there was a “blow in,” windy conditions that mandate that a boat must return to land. Since fishing wasn’t possible, Carlos decided to visit cousins in Salinas, California. The cousins encouraged him to apply for a job at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Carlos submitted an application and went back to the boat.
When Carlos returned to San Diego, his mother told him he had received several calls about an interview in Salinas. By this time Carlos and Linda had marriage plans. In order to save for their wedding, Carlos took the job in Salinas. On October 15, 1966, Linda and Carlos were married at the Immaculata and will celebrate 50 years of marriage this year.
While attending Mesa College, Carlos and Linda had a professor named Gracia Molina de Pick, a well-known educator and community activist. They credit Gracia with leading them to their commitment to social justice. They became involved with Club Amigos which was involved in charitable activities. The group would collect food and clothes to take to Tijuana.
One day at a dinner between the San Diego State and Mesa College Club Amigos, Carlos and Linda decided that a club for Mexican-Americans was needed. The attendees at that dinner meeting were Chicano activists Manuel Ortiz, Carlos Gaines, Carlos and Linda and possibly Diane Lopez. This dinner meeting gave birth to MAYA (Mexican American Youth Association). MAYA existed on paper only; there were no members. Their interest was definitely more political and geared to civil rights for farm workers.
Gracia had been put in charge of San Diegans for the Huelga, the farm worker grape strikes in the 1960s . Carlos and Linda joined the group that would caravan to Delano, California, taking both food and clothing to the farm workers. Linda says they would sleep on the floor of the Pilipino Hall.
Being young and adventurous, they thought it was fun. Unknown to them, their commitment and ability and willingness to interact with Pilipino farm workers were being observed by farm worker leaders César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and Gilberto Padilla.
As a married couple, Carlos and Linda lived in a duplex in Clairemont, went to school, were activists and as Linda puts it, “played house.” Initially, the landlord loved them. They paid their rent on time, Carlos cut the grass for both apartments and thing were going well. Then their names started appearing in newspapers for supporting the farm workers and the boycott. At their home, they hosted study groups that soon became politically active. The landlord raised the rent several times and it became obvious to both of them that he did not want the two activists living in his apartments.
They started looking for a new apartment and came across a small, two-bedroom house for sale near Market Street. The house payment would be less than the rent they were currently paying. Linda’s former boss the dentist, Dr. Slurasishi, loaned them the money for the down payment.
The loan was made with a verbal agreement and a handshake. There were never any loan documents. Both Carlos and Linda said that no matter how little money they had, they always made their payments on the loan, not only because they were grateful, but because of the trust Dr. Slurasishi had shown in the two of them. Later, he would once again loan them money for the down payment on the house they currently live in on Grove Street.
In the garage of the house near Market Street, La Verdad, a Chicano newspaper, was born. The late Rick Sanchez, Linda’s brother, and Linda and Carlos were the first people responsible for the newspaper. Rich was a journeyman printer and had years of experience putting out the Monterrey California News. Their mission was to tell the truth, thus the name La Verdad. The first donation to support the newspaper came from two well known activists, Estella Chacon and Gracia Molina de Pick. Activist such as Irma Castro, Jorge Gonzales, Pam Cole, Alurista, and Richard Sainz all contributed various articles to La Verdad.
In San Diego there were newspapers published in Spanish in the late 60s but they did not focus on the Chicano community. La Verdad’s uniqueness was that it was a newspaper focused on activism and issues that were important to Latinos. Neither the San Diego Union nor the Evening Tribune wrote positive articles about Latinos. There certainly wasn’t any discussion of the Chicano movement.
The La Verdad articles that I remember that most pertained to my interests at the time were education, Chicano Park, the Catholic Church and the Neighborhood House/Chicano Clinic. I believe that La Verdad not only was the first Chicano Newspaper published in San Diego, but a historical record of any important event that happened to or with Chicanos in that time period.
By 1969 Carlos had become director of the Equal Opportunities Program (EOP) at San Diego State. He had been recruited by the Junta Directiva of the Mexican Studies Department, which at that time was a major decision maker at San Diego State. As director, Carlos earned a very good salary. Things were good. They were buying a home, earning good money and participating in the grape boycott, as well as other civil rights issues. Carlos planned to stay at EOP and move on within a year. His assistant director was Victor Nieto.
In the early 1970s, César Chávez approached them about going to La Paz, the United Farm Workers headquarters in Keene California, and working with him. They decided they would go for about three months and then return to San Diego. Both of their moms thought they were crazy, going from a well-paying job to move to La Paz earning five dollars a week plus room and board. To say their parents were apprehensive about this move would be an understatement.
In 1971 they moved to La Paz. Their daughter Tonazine was barely two years old when they packed their old pickup truck and moved north.
The rest of the story next month will include more about Carlos’ and Linda’s life in La Paz during the tense and often dangerous times of the grape boycott and strikes; personal setbacks and a continued life of activism in San Diego.
Prior articles in the Latinos in San Diego series here.