In 2013, Ramón Chacón stood at a podium at the Sal Mosqueda Community Center in Fresno and spoke with the gusto of a pastor on Sunday about Chicano history – a topic to which he dedicated his life.
For Mr. Chacón, the speeches he gave in Fresno were not like the rest. He had come to see west Fresno, where he grew up, as a sort of laboratory of his life’s work as a professor teaching the Latino experience.
“West Fresno is right here,” he said then, pointing to his heart. “Never forget where you came from.”
Mr. Chacón, a longtime professor at Santa Clara University, died Feb. 7 at the age of 72 from cancer.
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The son of immigrant farmworkers, Mr. Chacón went from Edison High School in Fresno to earn several college degrees. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Fresno State, he went on to get two masters and a doctorate at Stanford University, specializing in Latin studies.
People talk about the American dream. My dad really lived it.
“People talk about the American dream. My dad really lived it,” said Mr. Chacón’s son, also named Ramón Chacón, of Roseville.
The younger Chacón says it wasn’t easy for his dad, though. He thought about giving up. He used to say he felt “like an experiment” at Stanford as one of the few Latinos on campus at the time.
Priscilla Peebles of San Diego is Mr. Chacón’s ex-wife, and met him growing up in west Fresno. She was there when his research took him to Mexico, and when the two of them felt like outsiders living in Palo Alto. Peebles, who is black, said what drew them to each other was their ideology for equality.
“He had a passion for righting injustices for people of color. And he carried that out,” she said. “He was a scholar, he was committed. He worked very hard and he was directed. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it.”
Mr. Chacón was a front-runner in ethnic studies, teaching about racism and Chicano history years before the classes were common on college campuses.
If it wasn’t for Dr. Chacón, there’s no way I would have gotten where I am today.
“He had such an impact on his students, especially Chicanos from poor backgrounds,” the younger Chacón said. “He had a vision of what he wanted for them.”
John Ramirez, vice president of The Foundation for Hispanic Education in San Jose, was a student of Mr. Chacón’s at Santa Clara University. Ramirez, who grew up in Salinas, tried to drop out, but Mr. Chacón wouldn’t let him. He went on to graduate, and then received a master’s degree from Harvard University.
“If it wasn’t for Dr. Chacón, there’s no way I would have gotten where I am today,” Ramirez said. “He was a great professor, but his real mission was to really work with his students. He went above and beyond to help his first-generation and Latino students succeed.”
Born: Nov. 25, 1944 in Brawley
Died: Feb. 7, 2017
Survivors: son Ramón Chacón and daughter Gina Hunley; grandchildren Chance, Quentin, Cruz, Grayson and Logan
Residence: Santa Clara
Services: 2 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 22 at Santa Clara University’s Mission Santa Clara de Asis chapel
Remembrances: Donations to the Ramón Chacón Community Service Award can be made at mysantaclara.scu.edu/givenow.