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‘Rising Souls, Singing Scorpions’ documentary set to soar with community’s help

Author: Mark R. Day
Created: 26 August, 2011
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read


Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, with folk band, Los Alacranes (The Scorpions), has become legendary over the past 40 years.

   A few years ago, fellow filmmaker Paul Espinosa and I began documenting the life of Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, whose folk band, Los Alacranes (The Scorpions), has become legendary over the past 40 years, not only in San Diego, but throughout the Southwest.

    What impressed us was not only their movement and borderlands music, but the story of how the band began and how the Sanchez brothers, (Chunky and Ricardo) have become committed culture workers in their community.

    The Sanchez family hails from Blythe, Calif. in the Palo Verde Valley near the California-Arizona border. Chunky’s father was an irrigator on one of the valley’s corporate farms.  

    In the 1960s, few, if any, farm worker youngsters advanced beyond a high school education, but Chunky joined a program that brought him and a handful of other young farm worker students to San Diego State in the fall of 1970.

    Chunky was the only one who persevered. He says he owes his success to music professor Dr. Jose “Pepe” Villarino who helped him navigate the new cultural and scholastic environment of a big city university campus.

    Villarino invited Sanchez to join his folk music group, La Rondalla Amerindia, and the young student soon found his stride as a budding musician. Later, he joined, with brother Ricardo, a few other friends to form “Los Alacranes Mojados” (The Wetback Scorpions).

    To add pungency to their first album cover, they asked photographer Memo Cavada to take their picture “illegally” crossing a border fence. “We wanted to use the real fence,” Chunky said one day over fish tacos at Chiquitas restaurant in San Diego. 

    He added: “As soon as I got to the top and started handing down my guitar to the other band members, I saw an immigration helicopter and a border patrol jeep hauling ass right towards us.”

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    Suddenly, a border patrol agent jumped out of the jeep, walkie talkie in hand, and approached the musicians. “‘Chunky, is that you?’ he asked me,” Sanchez related, his grin cascading into a belly laugh. “It was a friend from Blythe named Romero Garcia.”

    Sanchez’ studies at San Diego State were punctuated by the heyday of the United Farm Workers grape strike and the rise of the Chicano movement with its marches, rallies and student walkouts. Cesar Chavez called Los Alacranes his favorite band.

    One of the highlights of this era was the people’s attempt to take over of Chicano Park, a vacant lot near the Coronado bridge that was destined to become a California Highway patrol substation. The people won. This led Sanchez to write the song, “Chicano Park Samba.”

    After Sanchez graduated from San Diego State, Los Alacranes caught the attention of the El Teatro Campesino. They asked Sanchez and his band join them in a six month tour of Europe as backup for their picaresque production, Chunky declined, citing family responsibilities.

    “It was a decision that I regret to this day,” said Sanchez. El Teatro Campesino instead chose a little known group called Los Lobos, and as they say, the rest was history.  

    After that, Sanchez and Los Alacranes kept playing gigs, traveling at times to El Paso, Denver and Kansas City. Meanwhile, Chunky taught music at elementary schools and tutored at risk youths at community centers in San Diego’s Barrio Logan, earning him commendations from San Diego’s mayor and city officials.

    One of those he mentored was Jose Sanchez, now in his forties. Sanchez, who lives in Chula Vista, recalled Chunky’s advice: “He told me  that gang life would lead me down the wrong path. If it hadn’t been for Chunky, I would have ended up in jail, or much worse. Now I have a fulfilling career.”  

    Sanchez experiences with barrio youth led him to compose Rising Souls, one of his better known songs. “There’s no need to kill another over a neighborhood,” say the lyrics. “We need to educate, not incarcerate, so that humanity can shine.”

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    Mentoring youth is only one facet of Chunky Sanchez’ connection to his community. “During times of struggle, his songs always gave us hope for the future,” said university professor Fredi Avalos. “He has even been there when some of us have transitioned from this world into the next. He serenaded my mother on her deathbed. His story is our own.”

    Thus far, Espinosa and I have completed about a third of documentary, Rising Souls, Singing Scorpions. Our immediate goal is to reach the $25,000 mark so that we can get matching funds with a challenge grant from the Leichtag Family Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif. Please let your family and friends know about this project through Facebook and other social media.    (A successful fundraiser for the film project drew more than 300 supporters at the Barrio Logan Winery on July 16, but more funds are needed to complete the project.)

    We have chosen as our current fund-raising vehicle. The kickstarter campaign lasts through Sept. 11. The link is  

    Donors may also contribute at any time through our website: 

    No donation is too small.                                                 

Mark R. Day is a filmmaker and journalist. He lives in Vista, Calif. He can be reached at:

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