Monday, December 23, 2013
Editorial: VICTOR LARA ORTEGON: Spanish Radio Newscaster And Cultural Symbol by HOMER0 VILLARREAL
Corpus Christi/Nueces County, TX -- Victor Lara Ortegon like a meteorite he lit up the heavens for Mexican Americans in the Coastal Bend when he relocated here after working in Houston for KULU radio (since 1950). He immigrated to the United States with the love of his life – Hortencia; they had one son: Victor P. Lara Ortegon Jr.
A compelling and positive reference person for the Hispanic Community he became. Victor Lara Ortegon functioned as a Spanish Radio Newscaster (and host of “Comentarios”) for KUNO radio since 1953 until his retirement in 2000. KUNO radio at the time was owned by non-Hispanics. “KUNO had a profit motive and understandably so; they wanted to capture the huge Mexican American advertising market at the time,” he told the founding couple of El Defenzor the day he announced his retirement. “I felt an obligation to focus on hard news during my early Spanish newscast to keep the masses of listeners informed.”
He found inspiration in the work of individuals of his time such as Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American GI Forum who set out to eliminate segregation and humanize institutions. He interacted with Dr. Hector and discussed how a campaign to promote education as a way to promote social occupational mobility among Mexican Americans was indispensable. Many Hispanics of the time worked in the fields and other low echelon jobs and the truancy laws were ignored (when it came to being applied to such Hispanic families).
The air of transformation and change was in the air. There were few media outlet that dealt sincerely with Hispanic issues and the pressing norms of tolerating societal variation. After a decade or so with KUNO, he convinced the management to pilot an “open mic” program during the noon hour on Morgan Ave., (he would run a phone wire from a building and broadcasted on the side of the street). Eventually “COMENTARIOS” became institutionalized and found a hefty roll of advertisers. By the late 1960s, a few more radical voices such as MAYO (Mexican American Youth Organization) and RAZA UNIDA (were competing for a captive audience). LULAC and the American GI Forum were considered more conservative and too ultra-patriotic organizations at the time (LULAC especially was considered too middle-class oriented and did not allow immigrants to join initially).
Lara Ortegon was initially reluctant to give the new left a voice on “COMENTARIOS” because the management of the station had voiced some subtle protestations. But the issues were too many to ignore. First the way the voting districts of the municipality of Corpus Christi were arranged became challenged in court – specialists such as Attorney William Bonilla (who became national president of LULAC) participated. The claim was that they “diluted” the chances of Mexican Americans being elected to city positions.
The social debates continued to erupt on “COMENTARIOS”. Other issues followed. A young college student – Carlos Guerra (a native of Robstown, Texas) – who had taken a radical stance and help found MAYO at Texas A&I University (Kingsville) and had gained national attention during the 1960s after a dorm mother did not allow him to pick up his date (a non-Hispanic young woman) to a function. Carlos Guerra showed up on comentarios with long hair and an “army” jacket blasting the “good ole boy” Anglo Power Structure of the Area. Guerra went on to appear in the Austin Statesman and on the cover of Rollin’ Stone Magazine (Guerra would eventually become a commentator in the latter part of his life for the San Antonio Expresss-News).
But “COMENTARIOS” was not only about politics. It had a platform without contingent parameters. If one’s house had burned down, it was the appropriate place to ask for aid. But overall, Host Lara-Ortegon used it to reinforce the cultural and history of the Mexican American – little did he realize at first the huge socio-educational and political base of El Pueblo Hispano.
Victor Lara Ortegon was born on September 28, 1924 to Gregorio Lara Galindo and Juana Ortegon Alderete in Candela Coahuila, Mexico. Later his parents relocated to Laredo, Texas where they resided just across the street from a radio station. He went to work for the XEFE station in 1948. He received technical training as a newscaster.
Lara Ortegon orbited the civil-rights leaders of the time and the bug of politics stung him; and it seemed essential in keeping things in perspective in reference to one’s values and belief structure. He was a middle of the spectrum Democrat. Politicos like Carlos Truan (a native of Kingsville) emerged running State Representative and later State Senator; Solomon P. Ortiz (a native of Robstown) who ran for various posts victoriously: constable, county commissioner, sheriff, and later U.S. Representative and numerous others. Educational, union, business leaders were emerging: a new middle class composed as a novel ethno-class of Mexican Americans was emerging in the region. New middle class neighborhoods emerged flaunting the individual success of a few powerbrokers – as well as the new ethno-class and social pretentions and assimilation that go along with it. But even then a middle-class segmentation had emerged between Hispanics and non-Hispanics. The issues of the day were vast and needed an outlet for conflict-resolution.
The diverse voices of diverse political leanings in the community were gradually integrated. Benny Benavides (who was informally bestowed the title of “co-host”) at “COMENTATIOS” became an added component. The latter Benavides was retired but had a vast military background and was one of the original members to file a lawsuit against Frito-Lay for the “Frito Bandido” stereotypes promoted in many a commercial of the time. Lara-Ortegon due to the collective needs of the time began to integrate and reinforce a strong political identity and base via his Spanish language and culturally charged radio program. Anglocentric view of the time were challenged on his show; bilingual, multi-cultural education was openly promoted as an alternative. Even non-Hispanic voices joined in the conflict-resolution of the day. “COMENTARIOS”. This noon show became more than just a plug for politicos, but a place where political accountability was demanded and ethics were shaped. “Politicos that felt too big for their bridges, were brought down a peg or two,” David Noyola, a community activist shared. “Victor also tried to identify positive role models in the community for the youth to look up to – to find the inspiration to shape society this that way – such as the late Selena Quintanilla-Perez.”
Luis Alonzo Munoz eventually bought KUNO – one of Lara Ortegon’s colleague a few years before Victor Lara Ortegons retirement in the year 2000; at a time after it had been sold and consolidated by CLEAR CHANNEL COMMUNICATIONS. Ortegon worked with other great colleagues like Ponce De Leon,Panchito Fregoso Gomez, Joe Gonzalez, Virginia Constante and others. Years earlier a scholarship had been established in his name at Del Mar College; a street named in his honor (near Holly Rd. and Greenwood Drive), a Medical Satellite Clinic on Greenwood (near the Molina neighborhood) also carried his name. Como decia su tio Gerardo en Candela “Este arroz ya se cocio” Que en paz descanse el senior Victor Lara Ortegon.
[A funeral mass was held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, December 23, 2013 at our Lady of Pilar Catholic Church. Interment followed at Rose Hill Memorial Park.]