By Irene Serrano
The original director of the Chicano Youth Center, Alfonso Hernandez, has died at the age of 64. A native of Fresno, he graduated from Central High, attended Fresno City College and graduated from Fresno State with master’s degrees in social work and criminology. Hernandez was on a panel last August for the Chicano History Revisited event held in Fresno. He recalled a walkout at Lincoln Elementary in Sanger.
Five-year-old kindergartener Arthur Barrera was in a locked cage in the back of his classroom. The walkout’s first day produced 500 participants, many who were grandmothers. By its peak, there were 2,300 students and their families who had walked out of Sanger Unified. Hernandez led more than 20 student walkouts in Fresno County. Most of the walkouts were in response to schools refusing to allow Chicano students to have a Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan club (MEChA) on their campuses. MEChA, the Chicano Student Movement of the Southwest, was controversial at the time. Students no longer wanted to identify as Mexican Americans but preferred the term Chicano.
Hernandez was responsible for helping create more than 50 MEChA chapters in the Central Valley. MEChA and the student walkouts were instrumental in the creation of the Chicano Youth Center. Hernandez said, “Through the Chicano Youth Center, we could do all the politics we needed because it wasn’t incorporated. That is how we did everything. We picketed and we stuck up for the students.”
At the height of the Chicano Youth Center, there were 3,000 students who participated in sports. The majority of them came from the MEChA chapters throughout the Valley. Hernandez stated that 80% of the MEChA leadership were young women. Creating the sports program was innovative in the sense that it was a draw for the young men, whereas it gave the young women the opportunity to develop their leadership skills. “The young Chicanas weren’t afraid to take on the political issues. The young men were there for the sports but when you needed them, they would be there,” stated Hernandez.
I met Hernandez through my involvement with MEChA at Fresno State. He had a quiet strength but never hesitated to speak up for youth in Fresno. At the Center, I started as a volunteer and eventually was offered a job. The Center was always a safe place to call home for Chicanos. Through example, Hernandez taught Chicano pride, activism, leadership, and service. His dedication and willingness to put his neck on the line so that we could have a voice as youth will never be forgotten.
“The Eagle is not down
He’s in a different sky
There is no death for this peaceful warrior”
Irene Serrano is a Mechista and member of the Fresno Brown Berets. Contact her at email@example.com