Ernesto Martínez, patriarch of Mexican folkloric dance in the U.S., dies

Services are scheduled Wednesday and Thursday, June 9 and 10, for Ernesto Arturo Martínez, an emeritus professor and alumnus of California State University, Fresno and renowned as a patriarch of Mexican folkloric dancing in the United States. He died Thursday, June 3, at his Fresno home. He was 71.

A public viewing is scheduled 4-7 p.m. June 9 at Whitehurst Sullivan Burns & Blair Funeral Home (1525 E. Saginaw Way, Fresno), with recitation of the Rosary immediately following. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9 a.m. June 10 at St. John’s Cathedral (2814 Mariposa St., Fresno).

Interment will be at Saint Peter’s Catholic Cemetery.

Professor Martínez retired from Fresno State in 2001.

He was a founding faculty member of La Raza Studies – now the Department of Chicano/Latin American Studies – at Fresno State. He also co-founded Fresno State’s Chicano Commencement Celebration in 1976, now called the Latino Commencement Celebration and the largest of its kind at any university in the country, and the Chicano Alumni chapter.

His influence extended far from the campus through his founding in 1970 of the internationally acclaimed Los Danzantes de Aztlán, the Fresno State-based Mexican folkloric dance group.

“We mourn the sudden passing of our esteemed colleague, but we are equally filled with joy in recalling the tremendous contribution Professor Martínez made,” said Fresno State President John D. Welty. “He nourished a rich cultural environment at the university for many students in the last 40 years and also throughout the community.”

“He was the father of folkloric dance in the Central Valley and one of a handful of pioneers in in California who helped develop Mexican folklorico dance in the 1960s,” said Dr. Victor Torres, chair of Chicano Latino American Studies at Fresno State and the director of Los Danzantes.

Professor Martínez started his first student group in 1966 at Selma High School, one of the first California public schools to include Mexican folkloric dance in its curriculum. Fresno State’s Danzantes has been a springboard for generations of dancers throughout the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond, inspiring the formation of other community dance groups.

Expressions of sympathy were received from throughout the state and as far away as Texas and Mexico, said Torres, who trained under Professor Martínez.

Torres said he called to invite his mentor to speak at Fresno State’s Mexican Independence Day event in September – also the department’s 40th anniversary celebration – and learned of Professor Martinez’s passing.

Professor Martínez was honored in 2009 the first Chicano Alumni Legacy Builder Award given by Chicano Alumni, to an individual who has made significant contributions to the Chicano experience at Fresno State.

In a message to the Chicano Alumni and community supporters, past chair Manuel Olgin said, “Ernie touched the hearts of so many with his gregarious laughter, high expectations of his students and blazing a trail of the teachings of Mexican Folkloric dance in the Fresno area and beyond.”

Olgin added, “Ernie’s activism for proper and dignified recognition of the Chicano culture was at the forefront and delivered with passion and belief in his community and in self. We will miss our friend, and we dance in his memory.”

A moment of silence was observed at the Chicano Alumni Legacy Award reception Saturday, June 5, honoring former Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez.

Former student Richard Delgado posted a note on Facebook, saying, “The folklorico community has lost a legend today, and for all who were blessed to have been taught by him or even had the pleasure of knowing Ernesto, we have lost our maestro, our mentor and a friend.”

Close, longtime friend Frances Peña-Olgin, Fresno State’s director of University Outreach Services, said Professor Martínez and Los Danzantes were effective ambassadors for Fresno State, helping communicate to families that the university fostered a climate of cultural diversity.

“Ernie was a great friend and role model whose impact and inspiration is now imbedded in the history of not only Fresno State but also the history of arts and culture throughout the southwest United States,” said Peña-Olgin.

Professor Martínez earned bachelor’s (1965) and master’s (1970) degrees in Spanish at Fresno State and began teaching at Fresno State in 1970. In 1978, He was awarded a second master’s in Chicano Studies with emphasis on Mexican dance from California State University, Northridge.

Professor Martínez was preceded in death by his mother, Leanor Martínez; a brother, Charles Martínez; and a sister, Ophelia Lopez. Surviving are his sisters, Armida Lugo, Eleanor Loya and Olga Sandoval; a brother, Raymond Martínez; and many nieces and nephews.

Remembrances can be sent to the Fresno State Alumni Association in care of the Chicano Alumni Ernesto Martinez Memorial Scholarship.

For more information about the scholarship, contact Peña-Olgin at 559.278.2048 or francesp@csufresno.edu.

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