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Preserving the history of Chicano culture in Kern County

Gabriel and Ernesto Patino founded the newspaper El Mensaje as part of Kern County's growing Chicano movement in the 1970s. Now the brothers are preserving those documents for future generations.
el mensaje cover
Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-26 21:31:48-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Preserving cultural identity.

That was the goal for a group of Chicano community members from Lamont and Arvin back in the 1970s when they created a newspaper about their struggles and victories. That goal continues today with an effort to digitize those documents and ensure they are preserved for future generations.

The Chicano Movement was born out of Mexican Americans fighting for civil rights and the notion that understanding our history was key to having an identity. This goal would also require Mexican American history to be taught in schools and explored in the mainstream media, which was not the case.

In Kern County, community members in places like Lamont and Arvin took it upon themselves to change that.

"We put out our first issue in 1973," says Gabriel Patino, a founding member of the Chicano newspaper El Mensaje.

They called their paper "The Message." A unique newspaper at the time, made by the community for the community. Gabriel Patino along with his brother Ernesto Patino and several of the other founders had no journalism experience, but they knew they were going to have to figure it out if they wanted to see their community represented.

"It was basically stuff that was not covered in local media because we didn't really exist back then," said Patino. "In fact, my birth certificate says I am white. We didn't exist."

Knowing he wasn't white, but also not having been born in Mexico, that sense of self-identity wasn't clear to Patino, and he must not have been the only person in the community who felt that way. According to Patino, at the time, the term "Chicanismo," a term identifying people of Mexican descent born in the United States, had been gaining traction as an identity.

The term was life-changing for people like the founders of El Mensaje, and it gave them the vocabulary to put into words out they felt about embracing their Mexican indigenous roots.

It's obvious all over their newspaper, later becoming a magazine, with indigenous representation and stories like 'Chicanos Ran For Office.' Even the advertisements served a greater purpose, promoting indigenous and Chicano businesses and entrepreneurs.

The lightbulb for the project went on from the conversations Patino had with his older brother, Joaquin Patino, who was attending Fresno State at the time, learning about Chicanismo and bringing those ideas back home.

"'Cause it seemed like nothing came into the Arvin, Lamont areas about Chicanismo, so that really was helpful to have these discussions," said Joaquin Patino. "So little by little, Arvin was changing in subtle ways, but it was changing because of the information coming down from Fresno."

That change was not immediate, but it was long-lasting.

While in college, Joaquin joined a club called MEChA, which was the Chicano student movement. When he came back to teach in Shafter, he says he brought that club to the high school students there.

"I was trying to involve more culture into the school, little by little, and also activities for them to do having to do with our culture, and also having to with college," said Joaquin. "If I made it, you can make it."

While Joaquin was teaching the history of Mexican Americans to his students, he was also creating history by engaging the next generation. His brother could see that and was busy documenting it in his magazine, El Mensaje.

They say it wasn't easy though, as there was pushback against Chicano studies programs in education curriculums, according to Joaquin Patino's wife, Eva.

"For hunger strikers or the sit-ins, that kind of thing, so, you know, it was really hard for us at that time," said Eva Patino.

Eva became involved with the advocacy of Chicano studies and ethnic studies around the same time as the Delano grape strike and boycott with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta was beginning to brew right in their backyard.

"We met Cesar," said Eva. "We would always see him. Wherever he was, we were."

Two fights Eva says continue today are farmworker rights and ethnic studies education.

Gabriel Patino says that although there is still a lot of progress to be made in those spaces, there has been a lot of change in representation on behalf of legislators and through media coverage.

"Makes me feel good, because I may have been a little part of it, but it was a group effort," said Gabriel. "You could have different people doing different things, but it was the same objective."

Gabriel Patino is still uploading all the issues of El Mensaje he has recovered through the years to post on his website, El Mensaje Magazine.