Musician Julio de la Huerta wears a small leather wallet on a short lanyard around his neck. If you ask him what it’s for, he turns it over, presents it forward and proudly states, “This is my green card!”
The funny thing is that instead of being an official work visa, the wallet just holds a plain, blank, green 3-by-5 card!
“My father always told me to always have a sense of humor,” de la Huerta jokes. “That’s the thing that gets you through life!”
Actually, de la Huerta who was born in Vera cruz, Mexico, was given all his official paperwork by former president Lyndon B. Johnson. the story goes that de la Huerta, who hails from a very musical family, had a Latin rock ‘n’ roll band called the Camachos (the rascals), who were headlining at a top hotel in Mexico city. “I had the best band in all of Mexico,” he says.
President Johnson’s personal secretary, Walter Jenkins, who was in charge of Johnson’s plentiful business interests in Mexico, stayed at this hotel when he was in town and would often stop in to hear de la Huerta play.
“One day the president’s secretary asked me if I would like to go north to the United States to play music. Of course I said yes, because this is the dream of every Mexican musician.”
Jenkins set up the first gig for The Camachos, which was playing at the wedding of president Johnson’s daughter in Austin, Texas. Jenkins handed de la Huerta and his band all their necessary immigration paperwork, along with an invitation to play at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas and for the Hilton Hotel chain. It was the start of a fabulous career that included travel all over the country and playing at the Democratic conventions. “President Johnson’s favorite song of ours was “La Paloma,” de la Huerta said.
After 25 years, he semi-retired from the music business and moved to San Diego, where, in 1993, he and his brother opened a restaurant in Little Italy called Latinos — the first restaurant in San Diego to feature live Latin music.
After Latinos closed, de la Huerta became a featured musician at the Westgate Hotel Plaza bar, hosting a “Noche Latino” for the last 15 years. He has also sung at Herringbone, Seersucker bar, and Jamie’s Place restaurants.
The path to the United States of fellow Latino musician Ossie Arciniega (who was born in Lima, Peru) took a different course. Arciniega’s grandfather, a basque national from the north of Spain, came to Peru to escape Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Arciniega’s father, who was a member of the Peruvian government, came to the U.S. to escape the 1970 coup. Although Arciniega said he loves music, he’s always worked day jobs and is currently a realtor in Rancho Bernardo and Escondido. He’s been called “The romantic Voice of San Diego,” and plays Peruvian-style guitar and sings in his spare time. He says he strives to emulate his heroes, Frank Sinatra, Nat King cole and Mel Torme.
De la Huerta and Arciniega formed a new Latin band to play classic ballads and new compositions. Their premiere concert “Tardeada Musical,” will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd.
Included in the band (whose name has yet to be determined) are Lorena Guzman, a singer and guitarist from chile; violinist Jamie Shadowlight; Kevin Moraine on bass and chad Farran on percussion.
The band will play a mix of Latin songs, including “Moliendo cafe” and “La Vikina,” along with new works such as “Tu comprension” and “Te Vi Llegar.” Friend of the band and poet/teacher Carlos Tarrac will be introduced at the concert to share poems from his new book “Antologia de Poemas y canciones Voce del Sur de California.”