By Xela Vargas
Being a Mission local, you may think you know Louie Gutierrez – panadero, law school dropout, DJ, radio show host, professional banter-er, filmmaker, anthropologist, City College alum, and much, much more.
Growing up in San Francisco, in ‘La Mision,’ and in the circle of Aztec Dance, Louie has always been a staple character in the novela of ‘El Barrio’ – his family’s long standing Panaderia La Reyna, being an iconic staple to the Mission’s 24th street corridor, and something of a cultural hub. As he speaks, Louie works, and multi-tasks.
To cover Guttierez would take a series at least. Louie is a storyteller, and when asked about his days as a college student, he conjures up a rabbit hole of nostalgia, memories of a City College’s past – like a xicano necromancer.
On a sunny Sunday along 24th Street and Louie can be seen behind the counter, guarding his post.
Louie attended City College from 1996-99, “[or] something like that,” when a Gang Task Force probation officer was assigned to enroll him at City College. After dropping out of high school twice, returning to get his diploma, then committing a felony at 18, Louie was compelled to enroll in City College to keep him out of jail. He remembers the task force officer picking him up in his “little Porsche” as soon as he received his diploma and driving him to City College to enroll.
His first semester he found himself “the low man on the totem pole,” taking ESL classes with simple reading comprehension tests, and what he described as “dippy, sounding out words.” Despite some ego bruising, Louie didn’t let this defeat him, and instead sought community, connection, and place at the college.
Before telling me about his next phase as a City College student he prefaces this next chapter with “Now, this is like Barrio shit.” Gutierrez joined the student organization, La Raza Unida, and began to find his footing at the school as a leader, and student organizer. Soon after joining the club, he ran for president. His reason, he said, “I don’t know, I think people were telling me ‘Louie run!’” He won.
During his time as president, Gutierrez made some significant strides. One year the students organized a ‘slate’ to build solidarity amongst the students of color and took over all of the seats in the Student Government. Together the alliance then created an endowment fund with $3,000, awarding $100 scholarships to students every six months.
As a student leader, and college student, Louie naturally hosted parties with La Raza Unida. Gutierrez describes The Mission Cultural Center as “roof dripping in sweat,” crawling with college students. At City College, in the cafeteria he recalls DJ battles – “The Party Boys” at one end and “Mind N Motion” at the other, with a battle of call and response, only three songs to get the crowd jumping before the other could cut in.
Louie described these massive parties and confirmed that it was the student organization La Raza Unida, who were throwing these parties in City College’s own cafeteria and student union. He described the organization as the “most active” group on campus where his reign lasted for two terms.
He describes his most memorable moment at City College as the “highlight of his career.” Louie describes, “sitting in the La Raza Unida office when artist Juana Alicia dropped off a projector vinyl of her mural of the little boy with guns up, over on 20th.” Louie likened a panel of professors of La Raza Studies at a meeting to a “Greek God movie.” Visiting their office were people such as Dolores Huerta and local heroes like artist Carlos Kookie Gonzales. With the involvement of such artists and activists it is no wonder City College was a pillar in a young Xicano renaissance.
As his time at the college was coming to a close, Louie didn’t realize his next step was to transfer because, having found a home and a purpose in his leadership role and community, he thought he’d had it made. Louie described the day he received his last City College report card as coming home from a family trip and finding it slid under the door. “I looked at my report card and said YES!” He had gotten two C’s, but it was all he needed. He went on to attend UC Berkeley with the help of student mentor Cathie Arellano, and “some white hippie guy” that helped him in the student study center.
Leaving the Panaderia having spoken with Louie, you cannot help but gain a new understanding of him, or develop a longing nostalgia for a City College past. Guttierez imparts new awareness of what it means to tell a story, a lost art and one that he has sincerely mastered. He places you in that cafeteria, in the La Raza office, and even in his uncle’s backyard in Mexico. City College changes lives and builds character, one that has built the community icon that is Louie Gutierrez.