Historic Old Town is unique and authentic, much like the people who spend their days there. Jesus “Chuey” Martinez is no exception. Martinez is a natural storyteller, and there is no shortage of stories to tell about Historic Old Town. The Paper. sat down with Chuey, as he is best known to talk about why he loves Old Town so much and his advocacy work to preserve the culture that represents the people of Albuquerque.
The Paper.: You have been involved in so many iconic movements and monuments in Albuquerque, from helping to form the Cesar Chavez Foundation to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. What was your inspiration?
Martinez: We have so many cultures in Albuquerque, and while I’m not an expert in all those cultures, I try to find out as much as I can so I can support a lot of different projects around the city. My main involvement right now is with the Hispanic Heritage Committee and with the Old Town Neighborhood Association. I’ve also been an activist and musician my whole life.
I heard you knew Cesar Chavez. How did you meet him?
I grew up all over the United States working as a migrant farmer. I spent most of my childhood in the fields of California and Arizona. As I grew up, I became a part of the United Farm Workers Union. In the fields you see a lot of inequalities, and you get a real-world experience. I met Cesar Chavez when I joined the union, and I was inspired by the work he and Dolores Huerta were doing to represent those of us in the field.
When did you come to Albuquerque and move to Old Town?
When I first moved to Albuquerque, I lived with a family in the South Valley. I was interested in being a community organizer and taking what I learned from Cesar Chavez and the unions to help bring about change. Being an organizer means you make a minimum wage, and you really live out of a suitcase or a backpack. I became involved with organizers like Milly Santillanes, who worked in Old Town. I moved to Old Town in the late ’90s, and I’ve been here ever since.
What makes Old Town so special?
Old Town to me is an open cultural center. Every single building you see here has a history, some of them dating back to the 1800s or earlier like the San Felipe de Neri church. I’ve learned so much from the community members here and a lot of folklore about the area. I’ve written songs about the history of Old Town too. There’s such a richness of history here and a sense of community.
Although he is retired, you can hear Chuey play his canciones (songs) every Friday at the Church St. Cafe in Old Town from 6 to 9pm.