"No debes a mascar chicle en la clase. (No chewing of gum in class). Write it one hundred times, Mr. Zavala." That was my first memorable encounter with Se?or Valadez.
A small man of stature but large with discipline and motivation, he was my freshman Spanish teacher at Valencia High School in 1968 and later I would find out on how he touched countless lives throughout his teaching career in Placentia, which spanned from the 1930's to the 1980's.
Only recently, two years ago when I interviewed Senor Valadez did I realize what an amazing life this man has led and what a profound impact he's had on us all.
Born in Jerome, Arizona, one boy of five children, Se?or states that his mother was his greatest influence for the lessons of hard work, courage and love. He majored in physical education and Spanish at San Francisco State and received a secondary teaching credential fron UC Berkeley.
Se?or Valadez recounted stories of significance wth such detail as if they had only
recently occured and with you I will share just a few. One is of having cafe chats in the 1930's with friend and later founder of Hermandad Nacional, Bert Corona.
"I knew him from the beginning. We used to meet there on Olvera Street and gather our thoughts on how we were saving the world." Upon completion of his college career Se?or Valadez became involved with the youth, working at the YMCA in Los Angeles. This made him a highly recruited teaching prospect and in 1938 in
Placentia, Mr. Whitten the then-new principal at La Jolla School enticed Valadez to join his team.
Se?or Valadez recalled on how enthusiastic Mr. Whitten was in wanting to change the existing school curriculum to a normal one consisting of math, science,history and so on. Prior to this change there existed an experimental program from UCLA where the predominant Mexican-American children at La Jolla school were taught subjects condusive to learning a trade.
Valadez was a highly motivating force in the lives of the children whether coaching various sports teams or continuing his involvement with the YMCA. He belonged to LULAC, MAM (Mexican American Movement), MAPA and the committee for the preservation of Old Town Placentia.
As president of MAM, in 1946 he wrote this in their newsletter FORWARD. Because of the fact that the Mexican American Movement through its constructive program strengthens and supplements all the agencies interested in the advancement of Mexican Americans, we are receiving cooperation and recognition from schools, YMCA's, YWCA's, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, churches,service clubs, health departments, city, state and national bureaus.
Since the 1930's he was part of the leadership throughout California whose goal was to instill a positive direction for the Mexican American youth who were
searching for direction and an identity. At a time in this country where their parents were rewarded for their fruitful efforts but yet denied even the most basic of dignities enjoyed by the majority of U.S. residents. Such a confusing environment for the children to be in, Valadez and his peers took the task at hand to challenge.
"I was doing something to help our people in a positive way, raising money for
scholarships and having club work and taking kids to inspirational talks." Helping even if it meant persecution for himself and his peers such as what happened in the 1940's, when he was investigated by the FBI for the rediculous assertion of being involved in communist subversive activities.
Then-principal Whitten even went to bat for Valadez at a Placentia Board of Education meeting. While holding a copy of the MAM newsletter and stating " since when has the YMCA been communist?", showing them all the YMCA work being done. Valencia nurse Mary Gerhold echoed the same sentiments of support for Valadez upon her questioning by the FBI.
Says Valadez, "We were organizing clubs, raising money for scholarships. That's subversive? They just turned everything around. Than I found out they had nothing but dirt. Bert Corona had the same problem."
The theme of organizing would again surface during our three-hour interview. This time it was in the mid 1970's when the well-respected and well-connected Valadez received a tip from a little bird who worked at City Hall. "Hey, you better get down here and look at this. They've got some plans here with a parking lot where you live at."
Sure enough Valadez saw the 1978 redevelopment plans for downtown Placentia and his family and neighbors homes were to be displaced. Valadez had lived their for years with their many neighbors, such as the De Los Reyes family, who had received a Mexican land grant nearby in the early 1800's when this area was Mexico. Se?or Valadez would rise again for the challenge.
So he organized people throughout Placentia and held meetings. The growing numbers packed city council meetings and on a 3-2 vote the people saved their homes. "But it was a tight vote because they had already made up their mind without taking us into consideration. They're telling us 'Don't worry,' but in these plans they have they didn't tell us our homes are gone," says Valadez.
An interesting life indeed.
As I write this article I am not chewing gum. Any of you who are fortunate to see
Se?or Valadez who is well into his nineties, say hello. You will be rewarded by his boyish grin. Those of us who know of his history are already rewarded and forever indebted.