Chicano Activist and Actor Cheech Marin Finds Himself at Home in Houston

Chicano Activist and Actor Cheech Marin Finds Himself at Home in Houston

Cheech Marin reflecting outside of The Cheech (photo by David Fouts)

WHEN YOU TALK to Los Angeles-born actor Cheech Marin, regardless of how serious the subject, you can’t help but smile. His pop-culture presence is infused with an astute awareness of politics and history, and a “can do, make do, find a way to move ahead” spirit he connects to the word “Chicano,” a derogatory term that came to signify resilience, creative thinking, and social consciousness. “My dad, who died at age 93, always described himself as a Chicano, because it described him,” says Marin.

Born in 1946, and perhaps best known as one half of the stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong, Marin has enjoyed a long career as an actor in such hit television shows as Nash Bridges and voicing characters in several Disney films. This week, he’s in town for the Houston Latino Film Festival (Mar 20-24) screening of The Long Game, which premiered at South by Southwest and is scheduled to be released theatrically on April 12, 2024. Marin has a small role in the film.

Set in Texas in 1955, the film is based on the true story of the Del Rio Mustangs, five young Mexican American caddies at a “whites only” country club, who created their own golf course in the middle of the South Texas desert, taught themselves how to play using discarded clubs, and went on the become the 1957 Texas state champions. (The history of the Del Rio Mustangs is recounted in the book Mustang Miracle by Humberto Garcia.) Directed by Julio Quintana, the cast includes Dennis Quaid, Jay Hernandez, and Marin in the supporting role as Pollo, a shellshocked World War I vet who works at the country club where the story takes place, and wears a cage shaped into a suit of armor over his body to protect himself while retrieving balls on the driving range. “It’s his metaphor for protection against the outside world,” says Marin of his character’s costume. Marin’s father served in World War II as a radio man on a PBY (Patrol Bomber), and like a lot of men and women at that time, did not have the language or tools to heal from the trauma of their experience. “My father went right from being in the Navy to being a policeman for 30 years,” says Marin. “Which has its trauma every day.”

Golf was a passion of Marin’s for many years until back issues forced him to give up the game. “I love my memories of golf,” says Marin ruefully. “It’s a very demanding game because you can never master it. You can only get better.”

In recent years, Marin has become one of the world’s foremost collectors of Chicano art, and in 2022, opened The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture (known as “The Cheech”). Some of the artists on view at The Cheech donated artworks to the auction for Rothko Chapel’s recent Inspirit fundraiser gala, where Marin joined 2023 Art League of Houston Texas Artist of the Year Vincent Valdez and legendary civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta for an onstage conversation about art and activism. “I love the art, and I’m an inveterate collector of a lot of things,” says Marin. “The fact that these painters weren’t getting their due added to the excitement of collecting what was out there.”

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