Cheech Marin, a mix of 'Da Vinci' and Brown Buffalo
A collector of Chicano art, defender of the legalization of the cannabis, and habitual face of the family comedies, Cheech takes his activism to another level.
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A comparison between the actor Cheech Marin and the lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta, the Robin Hood of Chicanos, is a risky discussion.
That's especially because of Acosta's life of excess that was reflected in his autobiography and what inspired Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — although Thompson took on Brown Buffalo much more than that.
Both represent different forms of struggle for the rights of Chicanos and incorrigible in a rather 'punk' and wild sense, taking their activism to a broader, psychotropic, but also humanistic level.
Acosta left the community (and the world) some wonderful books, among them The Revolt of the Cockroach People, and Cheech Marin is best known for his acting, sense of humor, and for making Latinos visible in the movies outside of clichés.
This is the aspect of Cheech that interests me the most — his place as a Latino who does not marry with stereotypes, neither negative nor "positive," but moralizing.
He takes part in family comedies such as The War with Grandpa, which will premiere this Friday, Oct. 9, and stars Robert De Niro and is produced by Latina Rosa Morris-Peart. Cheech also puts on his art curating cap, and gives us the largest collection of Chicano art ever assembled — the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry, which will open in 2021.
If Umberto Eco lectured in Apocalyptic and Integrated about low and high culture, Cheech and Acosta are bridges that communicate a kaleidoscope of Chicano experiences, interests and contributions of the most diverse kind.
"Museums are the ultimate mark of cultural acceptance," said Marin, a 'Da Vinci' who crosses disciplines in a documentary entitled, The Cheech, where he argues that Chicano art is American art and that artists cannot and should not be classified.
There are many ways to be political in this life, but laughter is always the best mode through which to introduce complex subjects.
When Cheech & Chong started doing comedy in 70's clubs and then launched their film career as a duo, the topic of marijuana use and the hippie lifestyle was at the center.
Tommy Chong and Cheech have always fought for the right to cannabis for many reasons, but one particularly interesting one is the racial inequalities and negative stereotypes surrounding marijuana that still prevail today. The data show that simple possession of marijuana is the fourth most common cause of deportation in Latino communities.
Cheech & Chong created a precedent, according to Tommy Chong in an interview with Cannabis & Tech Today:
"What Cheech and I did is change the perception of Latinos forever. We changed it," said the activist, writer, actor and director in reference to their characters, who somehow transformed the offensive, pandillero stereotype of Latinx individuals that was often seen in the media.
"Now, people look at Latinos and they see Cheech and they look at hippies and they see me. Not only are we harmless, but we help people," he concluded.
The words that Buffalo Acosta left written in his biography still ring loud:
"I have no desire to be a politician. I don’t want to lead anyone. I have no practical ego. I am not ambitious. I merely want to do what is right. Once in every century there comes a man who is chosen to speak for his people. Moses, Mao and Martin are examples. Who’s to say that I am not such a man? In this day and age the man for all seasons needs many voices."
Cheech Marin is a necessary voice.