My Cousin – Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan

3 Aug

GILBERT ‘MAGU’ LUJAN – October 16, 1940 – July 24, 2011

Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan was one of the seventeen grandchildren of Esteban Lujan.  His father Alberto was a godson of General Toribio Ortega and Fermina Juarez (See Blogs “Fermina Juarez: Viuda de Toribio Ortega” and  “General Toribio Ortega”).  Gilbert, who was very interested in our Indigenous Roots and our extended La Junta Tribe, celebrated the day that I was able to document our Apache great-great-great- grandfather (see Blogs “My Apache” and “Digging Up The Roots”).

Because I married young, and my Tio Alberto married older, Magu and his brother Richie were contemporaries of my own boys.  Richie and my son David sang in a “garage band” such as sprung up all over L.A. around the time of La Bamba and Richie Valens.

This “carucha” upon which ‘Magu’ applied his art, was Gilbert’s interpretation of the family vehicle during his youth   Gilbert envisioned the world through the eyes of a “Chicano”.

My oldest son, Ruben and his friend, Philip Russo (see Blog “Chico Cano – Did He or Did He Not”), were into restoring 1949 Chevy coupes upholstered in Tuck-and-Roll leather from Tijuana, Mex.  Gilbert never got into either one of them.  But… he did tell me repeatedly that it was then that his vision of  “Caruchas“, as related to the Chicano experience, took root.

In the years that followed Gilbert moved to Fresno, joined the Air Force, and was mostly living outside of L.A. County.  By the time he returned he had already been involved with the Cesar Chavez Movement.

Gilbert later banded together with a group of Chicano Artists that creatively dubbed themselves “The Royal Chicano Air Force”, an “artistic flank” of La Raza that could “fly without wings” .  Comically, the FBI and the CIA investigated the RCAF as “subversive”.

When the members of the self-proclaimed Royal Chicano Air Force were interviewed by the federal agencies, they confessed to having a squadron of adobe airplanes, but “they were having a very hard time getting them off the ground”. Of course, the artists laughed their asses off, over this insane scenario.  Their next mental creation was “The Royal Chicano Submarine”.  They (fictitiously) built a prototype that broke all subsurface records……”It never came up”.

By then Gilbert was more deeply involved in his art and had developed his signature approach.  However, we were to have many a heated argument about what I considered his promotion of negative aspects of our marginal existence.  His views were labeled by some as radical.  Gilbert never thought of himself as an extremist. He once asked,  “How does wanting parity make me a radical?”

On August 29, 1970, Gilbert and Richie stopped by my house.  They were on their way to a peaceful protest against the “disproportionate number of Chicanos being killed in Vietnam.”  They were back within a few hours–ashen faced and shaken by what had turned into a frightening scene.  We did not yet know that LA Times reporter Ruben Salazar had been killed by a police deputy who fired a tear gas projectile into a crowded bar where Salazar was sipping on a cold beer.

The incident only served to solidify Magu’s passionate, verbal pursuit of social justice.  Later, despite having achieved world-wide fame, he never wavered from his initial path. Gentle and soft-spoken, Magu would turn livid when speaking in defense of “La Raza” — then do a turnabout to speak lovingly of our indigenous roots and our “costumbres”.  He remained the same unassuming “Vato” to the end.  I recall teasing him about his signature Khaki pants—I think he continued to wear them until they became hard to find.

As of now, much is being written about Magu’s contribution to the art world.  But for me, his greatest legacy is having enabled “Raza” to shed the negative cloak that enveloped us for too long.  Gilbert had attained national social influence.

La Familia: left-to right standing, Ronnie (brother), Phillip (brother)

Pictured above: Gilbert Lujan, Elisa Lujan Perez, Sergio Hernandez at Magulandia

Pictured above: Gilbert Lujan, Rick Salazar, Sergio Hernandez

Viva Gilberto Magu Lujan!.   Que Descanse en Paz!

Prima Elisa


6 Responses to “My Cousin – Gilbert ‘Magu’ Lujan”

  1. Jerry Lujan August 4, 2011 at 7:37 AM #

    Elisa, thank you for the wonderful posting about Gilbert “Magu” Lujan’s passing. I just want to share some additional information that Magu shared with me about the events that led to the murder of Ruben Salazar. It was the night of the massive anti-war Chicano protest in L.A. called “The Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War”. The reason was that, at that time, over 15 percent of the casualties of the war were Chicanos or Latinos, while we only represented around 5 percent of the general population nationwide. The Draft Boards were doing what we now know as “ethnic profiling”… drafting more Chicanos disproportionately than Whites, because Chicanos were not enrolled in college proportionately with Whites. College enrollment with 2.0 grade point average or better qualified the students for a deferment from the draft. Ruben Salazar wrote quite boldly about this disparaging fact, and therefore became the target in an effort to silence dissent about the war.

    I remember visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. around 1998, and vividly remember hearing several White persons saying, “My God! Look at all the Hispanic names on this wall.”

    The Chicano Moratorium against the war in L.A. was one of the major factors that lead to the lottery system for the draft. Ruben Salazar became a martyr, who, as a professional journalist, wrote about the disparaging truths regarding Chicanos taking on a much larger load in fighting that war than the rest of the population, ethnically speaking. Yet, at home, we were, and still are to a great extent, treated as “second-class” citizens. That is what the Chicano movement was all about.

    The United Farm Workers, organized by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, fought to improve the living conditions of the shameful squalor farm workers were forced to live under, yet, they produced the most valuable of all products for the this country.

    So, with this larger picture in mind, Magu, started expressing his outrage along with Sergio Hernandez and others when they started publishing the “Con Safos Magazine.” From there, Magu joined hands with four other artists known as “Los Four”, who pushed for Chicano Art to be acknowledged. Their efforts led to the “Los Four Art Exhibition” at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was a significant first! The success of the exhibition became the artistic flank to the Chicano Movement in California, and eventually developed into a movement of its own, the Chicano Art Movement. Then it was many more than Los Four that wanted in on having their artistic works accepted. Around that time, the Chicano artists would meet to discuss what Chicano art was. Since most of the “artistic flank” of La Raza, could fly without wings (sign of the times), they decided to call themselves the Royal Chicano Air Force. The word got around about the existence of this group, which lead to their investigation by the CIA and the FBI as a subversive organization. When many of the RCAF where interviewed by these federal agencies, they told them they had squadron of adobe airplanes, but were having a very hard time getting them off the ground. Of course, the artists laughed their asses off, over this. Subsequently, years later, the same concept of discussing the nature of art and other philosophic topics, re-emerged again, by Magu’s “Mental Menudo”.

    This is why, Magu was not only an exceptional artist, but was a leader of promoting dialogue on topics and issues leading to the betterment of our people. In this, he was also an icon.

    Que Magu esté en su Gloria en Magulandia. VIVA MAGU!!! Y NUNCA TE OLVIDAREMOS.

  2. Dave Perez August 4, 2011 at 11:28 AM #


    On behalf of my mother and me, I would like to thank you for your articulate and meaningful comment that you posted on her blog. It serves as a reminder to many chicanos that lived through the era of the Viet Nam War, and how it affected us and our families.

    Thank you for you caring and for your profound words.

    Primo David

    • Jerry Lujan August 4, 2011 at 10:58 PM #


      Thank you once again for your kind words. I look forward to meeting you. I am trying to get to Califas, but am short of $$, my car has been in the shop for a month and has taken my exta lana.

      Thank you for your postings and great way of expressing your deep appreciation for Magu. He was truly one of a kind. What a loss, but what riches he shared with all he came in contact with.

      Primo Jerry

  3. Rick Salazar August 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM #

    Hi Nina,

    As I sit here in New York watching it rain through swollen eyes, I struggle to read the blog of my cousin Magu.

    This is the part where I go and get my reading glasses. In appreciation, I finish the blurb about him and sigh.

    How many of us will get recognized for our accomplishment, and if we’re lucky,….postmortem? It’s a happy thought but sad at the same time.

    Whose turn is it to carry the torch, and how far will it get, and how long will it burn? Hmm… Tough question no answer.

    I guess we just need to show and share love while we share our time and space together.

    Love you Nina,

  4. Jerry Lujan August 14, 2011 at 2:49 PM #

    Rick, I have heard so much about you from Prima Elisa and Dave, that I feel like I already know you. I will be in Califas from August 25 to September 12. I am bracketing the last day of Magu’s art sale, on Aug. 27, and his public memorial service on Sept. 10th. I hope you will be around for us to meet. Thank you for your heart-felt expressions regarding our very special primo, Magu.

    Jerry Lujan

  5. Theresa Lujan Clark March 12, 2012 at 2:56 AM #

    You gentlemen (Chicanos) are a credit to our culture. There are many Chicanos being killed now in this war. First it was my Dad in World War II. Then my friends in Vietnam. They are still paying with their demons. It’s not over. My Husband is an Anglo, but he has helped many Vietnam Vets try to deal with their demons. Now the new Vets are dealing with the same thing. When will it stop. I wish to give each of you the credit you are due. Especially Magu. I am a Lujan by Birth and I’m very proud of my Culture. After reading every thing that you have written I’m so proud that I could bust the buttons off my blouse
    Love and take care of yourselves.

    Theresa Lujan Ortega Clark

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