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!