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  • Writer's pictureGabe's Corner

Mt. SAC Dances

Updated: May 5, 2021

During the mid-1970’s, I attended Mount San Antonio College, located in Walnut, California. Everyone referred to the college as Mt. SAC.

I was a member of the Chicano Student Club, MECHA.

MECHA stood for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan.

The college provided our club with an office which was decorated with Chicano art and posters of Chicano leaders and heroes.

MECHA members could study, get tutored, plan events, or just hang out between classes and flirt with the opposite sex.

Flirting with the same sex was still in its infancy, but the closets were opening.

Throughout the school year, MECHA sponsored a handful of dances. All the student from campus were welcome. On occasion, Black and White students also attended the MECHA dances when they were held at Mt. SAC.

Dances were thrown for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and the most popular dance, Cinco de Mayo. The dances attracted Chicanos from all over the region, including high school students from San Gabriel and Pomona Valley.

There were bands on occasion, but DJs were becoming the rage with their elaborate light shows engulfing the dance floor. The sounds of Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, and Average White Band rocking the dancers in their platform shoes across the floor.

Mt. SAC prohibited alcohol on campus. But that was OK. Because when our little crowd walked through the double glass doors of the student center, we were already buzzed on our favorite party wine at the time, Yago Sangría.

Once in the building, you entered a large lobby. To the left were the wide open double wooden doors, a few steps past the threshold, you were on the edge of a large dance floor surrounded with bouquet tables and chairs. All decorated to fit the theme of the holiday.

Our crowd always arrived when the Dance was well on its way. We instinctively had to make a grand entrance. We were well groomed, with the scent of Brute, dressed to-the-Nines and like Freddie Prinze Jr. used to say, “Looking Good!”

The Chicanas always dressed to impress. Fashioning those skimpy little cocktail dresses, Shag and Farrah Fawcett cuts. Sometimes I didn’t recognize my classmates, with the abundance of cleavage. But no matter how Chic some of these ladies were, they couldn’t veil that dash of Chola from their girlhood days. Only an experienced eye would catch it. Like us undercover one-time Cholos, and we dug it.

Now, I was never a hardcore Cholo as a youth. Well, maybe for a minute. But I could easily see through these ladies cloaking and I’m sure they saw through mine. Regardless of how sophisticated I thought I had become, with pleated baggie slacks, cuffs and platform shoes, it wouldn’t be enough to fool them. Certain mannerisms would give you away.

For guys, the duck stance was always a give-away. The way girls wrapped their arms across their midriff, with only their fingers resting on the top of their upper arms was a give-away too.

If you didn’t grow up in that lifestyle, you’d never catch it.

Whatever background these MECHA members came from they were all a great bunch of guys and gals. All of them. Each of us trying to find a better way to live.

The Valentines Dance always drew a good audience. The highlight of the dance was the crowning of the King and Queen of Hearts. Only MECHA membership could vote for the nominees. Among the several selectees was me and my three close friends.

Of course, we were nominated, the four of us were the epitome of manhood on campus. Surely, it would have to be one of us. Well, maybe, I put a little, too much on that thought, but we were in the running for the King of Hearts crown.

Midway through the Valentine Dance, the announcement of the King and Queen would be made.

The four of us joined the crowd below the short stage waiting for the proclamation. The DJ played some soft rock background music as the Queen was announced first. She was a popular girl, active in organizing all the dances that raised money for scholarships. She didn’t get my vote, but I was happy for her as she was presented with roses and the tears ran, along with her make-up.

Now it was time to find out which one of us, men-of-men, would be King. The four of us stood proudly. We were all probably thinking the same thing, “I’ll just act surprised when they call my name.” When the King was proclaimed, there was a momentary sigh followed by a roar of applause and cheers of excitement.

The four of us stared at one another applauding lightly with our mouths open in shock. The King was a popular MECHA member with the ladies. Always on top of the latest fashion and dance moves. His hair was a stylish natural, sporting a pencil thin mustache and oh yeah, he was gay.

The four of us wanna-be machos were observed by a Mechista girlfriend, who teased us, “You guys can close your mouths now. How you hunks gonna live this one down? It’s two Queens this year!” We all broke out laughing at one another. We never saw it coming. Looking back, we had no idea that the students of MECHA were way ahead of their time.

The last Mt. SAC dance I would attend was the Cinco de Mayo Celebration, the biggest dance of the year. The band had a big brass section and was killing it with Santana, Chicago, War, Maze and Brass Construction tunes.

All was going well, till I walked out of the men’s room alone into the lobby. There he was, a couple of short yards in front of me, with two large gangsters at his side. I was hoping he didn’t make me…but he did. His name was Frankie Madrid, we were in rival hoods growing up. He was known for terrorizing the youngsters from my hood and other acts of violence.

Frankie didn’t know my name, but he recognized me from the old days living so close, we attended a lot of the same social affairs. He approached me dressed in the fashion of the day. He still sported a pompadour with his two torpedoes close behind. All dressed in their best, For-Vatos-Only attire.

Now the torpedoes weren’t trying to disguise who they were, but Frankie was. Men’s Quarterly could have dressed him in their finest suit but he’d still look like the poster boy for Cholo Illustrated. There was just no hiding what Frankie still represented.

The three of them caught me with a lobby wall as my only back up.

Frankie opened with, “You from the other side, right?” He meant the other side of the boulevard that divided the two hoods. I nodded my head, trying to appear unafraid. But I was afraid. These were some bad boys. Frankie continued, “You remember me?” Again, I nodded. Full of confidence with his boys backing him, Frankie says, “I have an idea, why don’t we step outside and settle some old business?”

You know, one-on-one with Frankie, I wasn’t worried about. It was his two apes that concerned me most, they were menacing looking fellows. I don’t think this was their first barbecue. “So shall we ese?” Frankie nods his head in the direction of a nearby green lit exit sign.

Luckily for me, two of my close pals had wondered why I was taking so long in the men’s room. We’d all been raised in different hoods but knew that crazy shit can go down in the restroom. So, they left the dance floor to investigate. When they stepped into the lobby, they spotted me right away. My body language told them I was in a compromising situation with three strangers. One pal went for troops, while the other posted himself stealthily behind Frankie & Friends.

I wasn’t alone now and that sure felt good. Moments later, my Mt. SAC school chums began arriving without notice. One by one, positioning themselves behind the three amigos. The odds were in my favor now. My pals gave me the whenever-your-ready sign.

Frankie was still trying to convince me that stepping outside with him and boys was in my best interest. “You know ese, I’m not asking you again. This can go down right here in front of all your nice little college friends. Now, you don’t want them to see you all fucked up do you?”

Funny, a couple of minutes prior, I was about to soil my shorts. How quickly things can change. I was now in total command of the situation. Without raising my voice one octave, I told Frankie, “Look behind you.”

Chuckling, Frankie says, “Come on ese, I ain’t going for that one!” But one of his boys did take a peek and was startled by enough smiling faces to fill a jury. He tell Frankie, “I think you better take a look Frankie.” Frankie turns to look and says, “Oh, fuck.” He slowly turns rubbing his chin, pondering his next move. “Oh, come on ese, you know I was only fooling with you. You know that. Why, were practically from the same hood!”

Amused by Frankie’s territorial inaccuracy, I responded satirically with a bewildered expression, “I hadn’t heard that.” Frankie continued trying to squirm his way out of an ass beating. Fortunately for him, I detest seeing someone demean themselves. I found it vulgar. I abruptly silenced his grumbling, “Quiet.” He clammed up quick.

I continued, “Your going to leave this dance right now unharmed and not return tonight or any other night.” I was interrupted, by disagreement among my friends, “No, fuck them up...That’s what they were gonna do to you...Don’t let them just walk out of here...” And on-and-on my comrades snarled.

In my mind, there was no need for street justice. Sure, I was scared for a minute, but I wasn’t beaten up or bloodied. If a barbarous act took place this night, MECHA would probably be disbanded tomorrow in disgrace. I could plainly see the three were displaying more fear than I had and that was enough for me.

Appealing to their better judgement, I said, “Look, are we gonna let these guys mess up our Cinco de Mayo? I know you're all better than that."

My rescuers glanced at one another, then at watery-eyed Frankie. At that moment, he resembled the crying rabbit in the cartoon, pleading with the hunter, he wasn’t worth harming.

My rescuers reluctantly came to the same conclusion, nodding, "No," amongst themselves. The action of true caballeros. I had expected nothing less of these fine young men. One by one they drifted back to the music on the dance floor and all the pretty ladies. Only my three close friends remained steadfast with me.

“Alright Frankie, take off.” Talk about sighs of relief, you could see their respiration returning to normal and color reappearing to their complexions. Frankie and his boys knew they had just dodged a serious thumping.

“Gracias ese.” Frankie and his comrades humbly departed the dance. Grateful for us not knocking the shit out of them as they departed the dance never to return that night.

Our stand against the thugs restored some machismo we may have misplaced in mid-February of that year. The whole Frankie Incident turned out to be what our egos needed after the Valentine’s ordeal. Knowing we had the superiority to march on those gangsters, which I must admit, was a bit exhilarating, letting them walk away unharmed was even better. For all of us, returning to the ways of the hood would only be regressing.

The Cinco de Mayo dance turned out to be the best dance we had that year. The gate pulled in over two thousand dollars.

But none of that money came from the four of us. There was a six-foot fence that ended at the rear of the student center patio which was inside the perimeter of the ticket stand entrance.

The fence and the building created a blind spot which prevented anyone from seeing us pull our young hard bodies over the fence. We easily mixed in with the crowd and saved money for more wine after the dance.

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