Thoughts Prompted by a Book by a Hollywood Star

by on July 27, 2021 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, From the Soul

by Ernie McCray

I’m thinking about Frank Cruz.

He’s an old junior and senior high classmate of mine who wrote a book, a memoir, Straight Out of Barrio Hollywood, a nice story of his journey from “the other side of town” in Tucson to co-founding Telemundo, a television network that broadcasts nationally and across the sea.

Before he pulled that off, he was a much loved and highly appreciated college professor of Chicano History and a well-known L.A. TV personality. A true transition from Barrio Hollywood, a Tucson ghetto, to “Hollywood” where the stars glow.

I felt so proud to have known him as I read of his accomplishments, the significant news he covered, and the celebrated names he dropped.

I couldn’t help but think of how he and I, in 1951, were part of our hometown’s history, how we ended up at the same school when Tucson desegregated its campuses.

Before then Latinos, Mexican Americans, in Frank’s neighborhood were considered White although they were treated otherwise.

They had to walk or bike a few miles eastwardly from Barrio Hollywood passing through my little neck of the woods and bypassing Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High, the Black School I attended, to get to Roskruge, a White School.

The name Dunbar, that year, was changed to John Spring, a White man from Switzerland who came to America to join the Union Army and ended up in Arizona where he helped establish Tucson’s public school system which, of course, back then, was tinged with a fair amount of racism.

Well, needless to say, this man replacing Dunbar, a Black poet of world renown, did not go down well in my community and the other Black neighborhoods in town. And, as it was with so many matters in town, our arguments never got off the ground.

But we kids made it work nicely, as I remember, especially as it related to keeping the spirit of Dunbar alive as we danced in the cafeteria at noon like we had at our old school – to more rumbas and mambos than before.

We kept the tradition of fielding excellent sports teams and having a great choir and band. With a somewhat different and special kind of sound.

We found in our two cultures a few differences and a whole lot of commonalities and similarities as the 60’s approached.

And, because of such rich experiences, I’m especially proud of Frank because he, obviously, with all that he’s done in his life, embodied throughout his life a motto that was passed from Paul Laurence Dunbar Junior High to John Spring Junior High: “Be the Best!”

We took that seriously, so he has honored our history to a great degree.

Barrio Hollywood gave the world a great man. One who has done much for the betterment of humanity.

His book was a very pleasant read for me.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Isaac Artenstein July 30, 2021 at 5:20 am

Wonderful article and homage Ernie! Jude and I spend a lot of time in Tucson these days (love your hometown!). I know the people that we’ve met there would really enjoy reading your work. We gotta get you on the local press there, dude! Abrazos, Isaac.


Ernie McCray July 30, 2021 at 6:00 pm

Wow, I’m glad you’ve got ties to my town. A few people there keep up with my writing. Take care.


Shirley Robinson Sprinkles July 30, 2021 at 6:24 am

Loved this, Ernie! I never stop learning from your writing! My “Dunbar To Destiny” screenplay writer and I just had this conversation a few days ago; how we black kids were bused past white schools all over town in Tucson to get to Dunbar. We talked about passing Miles and Elizabeth Borton Elementary schools, as well as Roskruge and Mansfield Junior Highs for me. At the time, I wasn’t aware that Mexican kids were treated as White in the school system. That explains a lot. Thanks for this insightful, illuminating piece. I’ll get Frank’s book for sure! Dunbar will always be mixed into my DNA—it’s also where you and I studied together, learning to “Be the best!”


Ernie McCray July 30, 2021 at 6:01 pm

I can’t wait to see the screenplay.


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