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Syndic Literary Journal

Editorial Cartoons by Dennis Renault

Editorial Cartoons by Dennis Renault

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Artist Andy Zermeño and the Santa Paula Safeway Library

We were living in Santa Paula when the old Carnegie-era public library moved to the former Safeway site and head librarian Elizabeth Blake prepared to display the work of a Chicano artist at the urging of a committee of long-time Santa Paulans. These folks included Bob & Tillie Borrego, George & Lupe Castañeda, Angela Dominguez, Benny Arelleano, Ophelia De La Torre, Marylou Mercado, Frank and Ramona Chavez, Henry Vela and his, son, Quito, and others.   They asked my help in locating an accomplished Chicano artist since I was a local artist and friend.  

The Library was already beginning to acquire books by and about Mexican Americans with encouragement and advice from these folks.

To locate an artist, I immediately thought of my former Salinas High classmate, Andy Zermeño, who then lived with his wife and family in Agora, just 36 miles away, and who had excelled in painting, sculpture and illustration from a very early age.  He was a natural.  And in addition to his success as an animator, sports logo and industrial designer, he was Cesar Chavez’s main creator of paintings, posters and brochures, as well as the cartoonist for the United Farm Worker’s newsletter, El Malcriado. 

The committee of Latinos agreed with his selection, so Andy and I mounted the first art show the Dean Hobbs Blanchard Memorial Library had on its wonderful new walls that formerly displaying Safeway groceries.  Art examples from all facets of Zermeño’s professional career were included.  County public school children toured the exhibit and Andy spoke to many of them, explaining his work. 

Santa Paula was headquarters for the Sunkist Growers, Inc., Calavo Growers, Inc. and various other conservative AgriBiz interests — in addition to the site of Union Oil Corporation’s first oil discovery, so it didn’t take very long for some members of these interests to object loudly to the UFW references in “their” library.

The horse manure hit the proverbial fan. Some Valley growers complained bitterly about those parts of the exhibit representing the unionizing efforts of farmworkers by the UFW and wanting them removed.

Head Librarian Elizabeth Blake stood her ground, risking her job, God bless her, refusing to take down any of Andy’s art as the “controversy” swirled around town for several weeks.

Concerned citizens made after-hours visits to the “controversial” exhibit to see what the fuss was about.

Dick Vincent, an oil executive and a friend who had lived in Santa Paula for years, subsequently told me he was privy to a conversation at Rotary Club between the conservative publisher of the Santa Paula Chronicle, Mr. Ross Phillips, and an agitated local rancher who was complaining about the exhibit. “Well,” said the publisher, “at least the exhibit got you to visit your local library!”

The publisher knew that public libraries were intended to be learning experiences and he probably enjoyed driving that point home.

I think the controversy also resulted in my subsequent cartoon on the editorial page of the Ventura Star-Free Press [attached] comparing the objectives of a farm labor union and grower organizations, which was intended to be a learning experience


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Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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