Retired Concord professor teaches Chicano culture beyond the classroom

Retired Concord professor teaches Chicano culture beyond the classroom

Retired Concord professor teaches Chicano culture beyond the classroom
David Martinez honors la cultura with art and murals throughout his Concord home.

CONCORD, CA – The ­Chicano culture permeates every part of David Martinez’s life, from his classroom to his living room.

He is a beloved figure in Concord, known for taking his lessons beyond the classroom with a multicultural twist. Martinez taught Spanish and English at Mount Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools and Diablo Valley College before retiring in 2004.

He has also been in politics – including serving as president of the Monument Democratic Club, in the arts and even as a bodyguard to Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú.

“David Martinez is a good guy with a rich history in Concord and before that. He has a great family story as the first in his immigrant family to go to college,” said George Fulmore, current leader of the Monument Democratic Club.

Emphasizing Chicano culture

Martinez has documented his colorful life in memorabilia throughout his living room. One wall features a mural of various Aztec symbols that represent survival and resilience, along with the United Farm Workers flag – a symbol within the Chicano civil rights movement.

Chicano, an identifier for people of Mexican descent raised in the United States, is what Martinez likes to call “la cultura,” or “the culture,” which he said “is everything.”

“Cultura is a composite of everything we know to exist: art, literature, politics, family, language, identity,” he said. “And you put them all together, kind of like a bowl of menudo, and, hopefully, when you cook it up it turns out to be something delicious. It may not be like the neighbor’s menudo, but it’s your menudo,” he said.

The importance of ­education

Martinez was born in a small farming town in Ventura County to a devout Catholic family living in poverty. In his senior year of high school in 1956, Martinez’s coach asked him what he was going to do after graduation. Ultimately, he enrolled at his local community college with the goal to transfer to Chico State – his coach’s alma mater.

“The catalyst was, I hate poverty. And if going to school means I’ll get out of poverty, then I’ll go to school,” said Martinez, who graduated from Chico State in 1959 with degrees in Spanish and history.

He served as chair of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee in Oregon, then moved to Redding and became president of the Democratic Club. With an ambition to become a college professor, Martinez moved his family to Concord. Hired at Mount Diablo High School, he worked directly under Ruth Galindo.

Carol Longshore was a senior, class of 1963, when Martinez started teaching Spanish at Mount Diablo. “What an energetic and caring teacher,” she recalled. “I knew this man was going to be successful because of his enthusiasm for life, music and people.”

Martinez also graduated from the University of Pacific, the only university with a fully Spanish-speaking college at the time, with a master’s degree in inter-American studies/Spanish in 1964.

Lessons for the ­community

He bought the bookstore in downtown Martinez and operated it for seven years in the 1980s and ’90s. In true teacher fashion, he called the bookstore his “mini university” because he focused on local writers while also offering multicultural and bilingual books for children and adults.

“Language is especially important because it’s a reflection of who we are inside. The more that we are bilingual, the more we can express ourselves. That’s beautiful – it opens up another world,” Martinez said.

Always stressing the importance of identity, he took great pride in a gig as a Santa Claus who could speak both English and Spanish fluently to spread holiday cheer. “Oh my God, these people have never had a Mexican Santa, and they were entrusting their children to me,” he said.

Martinez delved further into Chicano culture in 2007 when Concord High’s drama teacher hired him as a consultant for the production of the play “Zoot Suit.” Luis Valdez, the playwright behind “Zoot Suit” and the popular film “La Bamba,” had never allowed any U.S. high school to produce “Zoot Suit.”

Martinez has also sold books of his poetry in the community and sold his photographs to restaurants all the way down to San Ramon to promote Chicano culture.

“David is a dedicated individual advocating for the Latinx community as well as issues of social justice for all,” said Concord City Councilman Edi Birsan.

He still lives in Concord and continues to learn about various cultures in his free time.

“He is a profound writer and has studied all aspects of life,” Longshore said. “Any conversation with him leaves you wanting more.”

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