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Street Talk : Radio Show Host Mixes Music, Spanish Slang to Build Chicano Self-Esteem

January 15, 1987|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

He calls himself the Tokyo Rose of the barrio.

But instead of demoralizing his listeners with negative propaganda, the smooth-talking radio host known as Sancho employs a mixture of Latin rhythms and Spanish slang to convey a positive message of self-esteem.

"I'm telling the kids to stay in school, to get an education," said the star of "The Sancho Show," heard Friday and Saturday nights on the Pasadena City College radio station KPCC-FM.

"The message I'm giving, I'm sure they've heard over and over again," he said. "It's the way I'm presenting it that's different. For the first time, people can turn on the radio and hear somebody who talks just like them."

Amid music that ranges from traditional mariachi to the rock and roll of Los Lobos, Sancho peppers his educational exhortations with a medley of Spanish idioms deeply rooted in Chicano culture.

During his show, the college's 3,000-watt signal is transformed into the airwaves of Aztlan, the mythical promised land of the Aztecs. Listeners are addressed as raza , a fraternal expression literally meaning "race." Even KPCC's call letters take on new meaning: "Keep Positive because Chicanos Can."

"I use slang to get people to listen," Sancho says, "then I drop in my lugs in between."

With 111 fan clubs throughout Los Angeles County, "The Sancho Show" has emerged as one of KPCC's most popular programs since it first aired three years ago, said Beth Cooper, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, listener-supported station.

Audience Size

Although there are no exact statistics about audience size, station officials estimate that Sancho's two-hour broadcast is heard each night by between 3,000 and 8,000 people in communities as far flung as Torrance and Palm Springs, Newport Beach and Barstow.

Fans, who range from a Monterey Park physician to an East Los Angeles bartender, often tape the program and send it to friends as far away as London, New York and Alaska.

"You don't find another show like it anywhere," said Linda Manqueros, a Montebello social worker, who has done a "Dear Chevela" feature (a Chicana "Dear Abby") for the program. "He uses a lot of street talk. It makes him very human."

"It caught my attention because of the way he was talking," agreed Montebello Police Officer Frank Espejo, who started a 20-member fan club at the police station more than two years ago. "But then the moreI listened, I became impressed with the way he pushes education. He wasn't just another idiot on the radio."

The man behind the colorful Sancho persona is a 42-year-old Pasadena real estate developer named Daniel Castro.

A former teacher of Chicano studies at Terminal Island federal prison near San Pedro, Castro shies from discussing his life for fear that it might detract from the

message of his program.

Combatting Dropout Problem

The character of Sancho, as he prefers to be called, was adopted in 1984 as a tool to combat the high dropout rate among Latino students.

A kind of self-deprecating joke in street Spanish, the name Sancho represents a mythical, macho "other guy" who takes advantage of those around him. In a common exchange, for example, a man might ask the whereabouts of his wife, only to be told she is with Sancho.

"If you're taking care of your loved ones and you're taking care of business, you don't have to worry about Sancho," Castro said. "You don't have to worry about me."

Sponsored initially by the Pasadena Scholarship Committee for Mexican-Americans, of which Sancho was president, the show was presented to KPCC as a means to encourage Chicano youth to stay in school.

"At the time, we knew there was a void in programming for the Hispanic population," Cooper said. "We also needed an educational program. Since this was both, we were very happy."

Sense of Ethnic Identity

Although the message is educational, Sancho says, the program has developed a diverse audience because it extols a strong sense of ethnic identity that binds together all Chicanos.

"We don't speak English. We don't speak Spanish. It's something in between," said Sancho, noting that his listeners are primarily second- and third-generation Chicanos raised in bilingual neighborhoods.

"Are (Chicanos) invisible? We exist, yet we're supposed to listen to Rick Dees or we're supposed to listen to what's-his-name Luna on Spanish radio. Neither one of them fit," he said, referring to Dees, a popular Top-40 disc jockey, and Humberto Luna, a Spanish-speaking radio personality.

While primarily in English, much of Sancho's wry banter is sprinkled with Spanish colloquialisms not found in dictionaries.

Frequently heard exclamations, such as orale and andale pues --which roughly translate to "go for it" and "all right"--are part of the street talk that his listeners use every day.

'Get a Big Kick Out of It'

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