“It’s really important how we remember people,” said Pepe Urquijo. “When someone important in the community disappears without a reason, it’s hard to stomach.” Urquijo is a New York City School of Visual Arts MFA candidate, a Rockefeller Media Arts fellow, and documentarian with extensive experience filming in the Bay Area. He recently returned to Santa Barbara to finish a documentary on deceased fellow Chicano activist and friend Oscar Gomez.
Gomez, known fondly as the Radio Bandido, was a California student who became enthralled with radio broadcasting while at UC Davis. He merged his passion for Chicano studies and social activism with his newfound hobby, and in doing so cultivated a substantial number of interested ears in his community. He traveled California trailing various politically charged Latino issues along the Pacific Coast until one fateful night in 1994, when Gomez disappeared in Isla Vista only to be found the next morning washed up near the shore lining UC Santa Barbara’s campus. To the dismay and disappointment of Bandido’s friends, family, and the Latino community, the circumstances surrounding his death — which notably include unexplained blunt-force trauma to his head — remain a mystery.
Urquijo started the documentary years ago, but his “extensive collection of interview footage” vanished in the mail. He has been trekking across the country redoing interviews to put together a final tribute to his buddy. Earlier this month, he found himself in Isla Vista to do some aquatic filming of the beaches where Gomez’s body was found. He wasn’t alone; his peer Darren De Leon, a writer who has been helping Urquijo structure his interviews, along with Osiris Castañeda, Ivan Romero, and Gonzalo Rios from Youth Cinemedia — a nonprofit dedicated to social change for at-risk youth through media technologies — constituted the day’s film crew.
Castañeda, Youth Cinemedia’s director, offered his time and camera gear to help Urquijo finish the documentary. It was with nervous excitement that he set up the waterproof camera housing for its first oceanic voyage. One assembly mistake could permanently destroy the camera, or even the housing, once in the water. “How much did this thing cost you?” I had to ask. “It was like four Gs” Castañeda replied as he checked the plugs, seals, and bolts on the apparatus.
But Castañeda was much less concerned about the risky first voyage than helping out a like-minded filmmaker. “When Urquijo does good, we do good,” he said. He has run into Urquijo and other documentarians who serve as artistic voices to the Latino community, but “it’s not a competitive environment,” he assured me. Both men expect to see each other filming in the future, and both seemed interested in taking their cameras “behind bars” (again) for the sake of regional prison communities.
After plenty of heavy preparation and lighthearted conversation, the camera rig was out on the water filming the shores of Isla Vista. As much as Radio Bandido’s untimely death is disheartening, it was hard to watch the filming of his memoriam from the beach and not to feel inspired by the love these filmmakers have for their community.
For Castañeda, Radio Bandido offers an opportunity to help promote Chicano awareness. For Rios, filming like this offers a great opportunity he never knew he had. “I probably would be a busboy or working in a restaurant right now,” he said. But now he has the opportunity to follow something in which he is interested: He hopes to transfer to UCLA or USC to study film production, despite his disadvantage as an AB540 (undocumented) student. For Urquijo, it’s an opportunity to pose important questions to his community from a unique, personal standpoint.
The documentary is still in production, and seeks funding for completion. It will most likely be viewable in the area this fall, and is scheduled to enter the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Visit pepelicula.wordpress.com for more information or to donate to the production process.