By Gladys B. Vargas
“Soy revolucionario…” are the lyrics opening the musical Javier Gomez has had written and hidden away for the past 20 years. After a couple of lines, Gomez interrupts his own singing.
“That’s my passion project,” he said. “I would love to stage that, because it would be a cuadro of La Revolucion, and I don’t, in my understanding or what I’ve seen, I haven’t seen that being produced even in Mexico.”
Even though it’s the only musical he’s ever written, and waiting for the right time and performers to try and stage a production of it, the work feels like a natural continuation of Gomez’s history. A life of using song and dance together as tools for empowering his community, and of providing opportunities to access cultural knowledge.
Gomez, known to his students and most others as Mr. G, is often seen driving around in the mini bus for his music and dance studio, Inlakech. Inside the bus, his students wait to arrive at different community events throughout the county, where they perform on occasion.
According to Mr. G, students at Inlakech are very engaged in what they do. He said what it took him two weeks to teach as a school teacher takes his students at the studio five minutes to learn, because “they’re not looking at the clock,” Gomez said, “they’re asking me what’s next.”
Inlakech offers classes mostly taught by Mr. G himself in mariachi and folklorico, but other teachers support the studio by teaching lessons in mexican choral music. The studio also helps students learn and produce regional visual art, especially for Dia de Los Muertos. This year will be the 50th anniversary of Inlakech as a studio, and the 42nd anniversary of organizing Día de Los Muertos festivities around the county.
Gomez retired from the Oxnard School District in 2006, after 33 years of teaching youth and working in bilingual education, according to the Ventura County Educator’s Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame also writes that he was the artistic director of Ballet Folklorico Regional for 13 years, and is a co-founder of the Annual California Aztlan Chicano/Latino Theatre Festival.
Gomez said his work was inspired by a very direct mission given to him and his classmates in college by Cesar Chavez himself in the 1960s. Mr. G and his fellow activist friends had been involved in different civil rights actions on campus, including a fast to protest non-union-harvested lettuce on campus and an anti-war march.
“Since you guys are college kids, some of you are going to become educators,” Gomez said he and others were instructed by Chavez. “So, you go back to your communities, and you do the things that the kids need. And that is, teach them their culture, teach them their language, teach them how to sing, teach them how to dance, their traditional dances,” said Gomez to VIDA Newspaper.
“Make them proud, because if they feel proud, and they’re full of dignity, and they have self-respect for themselves, they can achieve anything in life, and they will succeed.”
And his efforts have not gone unnoticed. In the 2000s, Gomez said, his student mariachi was selected by Monique Limón, at the time an assembly person, to represent Ventura County at Sacramento’s first Mariachi Youth Festival, organized and sponsored by the Sacramento Latino Caucus. In 1992 the Los Angeles Times profiled Gomez, calling him a “one-man culture club,” after he won the 1991 Cultural Arts Leadership Award from El Concilio del Condado de Ventura. He won another Latino leadership award from El Concilio in 2011, and his studio walls are well-adorned with various recognitions, though most are hard to find among all the photos of former class groups, Dia de Los Muertos masks, and music posters and band costume pieces around the room.
Helping others celebrate who they are, especially young people, also comes from an ordeal earlier in Gomez’ life. When his family first moved to Los Angeles from Durango, Mexico when he was five, he was assigned to classes for developmentally disabled people despite not being disabled.
“I took an IQ test, and I was classified as retarded, and put in the [Educable Mentally Retarded] classes of the school due to failure, because I spoke only Spanish and I couldn’t answer their questions,” Gomez said to VIDA Newspaper.
The experience pushes him to help students “learn, learn English, learn about American culture, but also learn about themselves and who they are, and maintaining that.”
Outside of Oxnard, where Inlakech is based, Gomez also helps run a satellite mariachi program in Nyeland Acres. Across the county, he teaches his truth of “echale ganas,” a Mexican phrase that pushes people to “give it their all.”
“Si tienes ganas, ganas,” Gomez said he told the four-year-olds in Nyeland Acres. Then, “Si no tienes ganas, qué? No ganas!”
“That’s basically my methodology with the kids,” Gomez said. “You know, anything in life is achievable if you have ganas.”
While his awards and work are plenty, Mr. G shows no signs of wear after 50 years of running around the county, or the studio. At Inlakech, photos of past students look on as pulls on his dancing boots, and teaches students rhythms to mirror on their own feet. He helps a student look through the cabinets for a pair of shoes to borrow; he helps the students teach each other and work together. Proud parents peek into the studio to watch as slowly but surely, the mismatched paces of their children’s feet, still warming up, start to align, and they are all heel-toe tapping to the same beat. And it is only the beginning of the lesson.