South Texas Gentle Men of Steel – Los Padres

(This is a news release from my good friend Father Armando Ibañez, OP, which I know many of you would be interested in. Look forward seeing some of you at the preview.)

A new documentary about the great impact Dominican friars had in the history and development of central South Texas, especially on how their presence assisted many Mexican-Americans struggle against injustice and harsh racism, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26-27 in Ball Room A, in the Memorial Student Union Bldg. (Sub-M), at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK).

South Texas Gentle Men of Steel – Los Padres is written, produced and directed by Assistant Professor of Communications / Radio-Television-Film, Armando P. Ibáñez. He is also the director of TAMUK’s RTF program, is also a Roman Catholic priest, a Dominican friar of the Southern Dominican Province, headquartered in New Orleans. He is a native of San Diego, grew up in Alice, and is a former reporter of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

In addition, award-winning editor and animator, Todd Schmidt, is co-producer of the film, and Emmy Award nominee, Joe O. Barrera, a native of San Diego, is the documentary’s music composer and music supervisor. Barrera was named by the Hollywood Reporter as a film music composer to watch, and has won numerous prestigious honors for his music.

The January screenings are the film’s third and fourth sneak previews. The doc screened in the Little Theatre in late November.

“Watching Los Padres was an immersion in the history of my family,” said Jenni Vinson, who teaches at TAMUK. “It was touching to see the church that received my grandfather when he fled Mier, Mexico. This was the same church he later married in and where they baptized their children.”

The film is a tribute to the last two Spanish Dominican friars—Father Benito Retortillo, OP, and Father Epifanio “Epi” Rodriguez, OP. They left San Diego, and returned to their homes in Spain last year, ending an 82-year presence of Spanish Dominican friars in central South Texas. The film is not only a tribute to the last two friars to minister in San Diego and surrounding area, but is also about the great impact Dominican friars had on the lives of many Mexican Americans in South Texas, who struggled against poverty and discrimination.

Ibáñez says that the film represents a chapter of the ongoing universal story of people grappling to understand and accept each other as equals. It is a chapter that traces its roots to the Spanish Conquista—a wrestling match of greed and brutality against equality and Salvation. It is part of the universal story that began with Cain slaying his brother Abel.

Vinson says: “Los Padres is an encapsulation of what we once relied on the narrative to do, the telling of our stories. To see ‘us’ on the screen filled me with joy because Armando Ibáñez took such care with our story and presented us with the dignity my grandparents and the priests instilled in me for our culture.”

In the film, Father Epi says: “When I go back to Spain, I’m going to be a stranger in my own country. It’s going to be very painful for me to leave.” Father Epi ministered in South Texas for more than 50 years, while Father Benito served for about 30 years.

Although Dominican friars no longer minister in South Texas, the work of Father Epi and Father Benito and that of their Dominican brothers had a profound impact on the lives of many Mexican-Americans, especially when they faced the harsh realities of blatant discrimination, which denied them good jobs, education and even kept them out public institutions, such as universities, and businesses, like restaurants.

The Spanish friars of the Order of Preachers, more commonly known as Dominicans, did not lead with anger, but, rather, with a gentle presence that assured their parishioners of their human dignity and integrity.

The Dominicans “didn’t join protest marches” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, TAMUK Professor Manuel Flores says in the film, but they quietly encouraged the youth and activists to continue with their struggles against discrimination. It was a matter of justice and equality.

“They gave legitimacy to the Chicano movement,” Dr. Flores said.

“Our documentary includes a historical context in order to illustrate the true contribution these Dominican friars made, and to illustrate that Mexican-Americans faced blatant discrimination at one time in this country.” Although discrimination is still very much alive today, he added, but it is not as overt as it once was.

“We should never forget so that it won’t happen again, and so that we also won’t discriminate against anyone else either.”

The documentary is produced by Pluma Pictures, Inc., a non-profit film production company. Featured in the film are writer and historian Alfredo Cardenas, Roberto Juarez, poet and retired postmaster and Servando Hinojosa, visual artist and retired art teacher, as well as an interview with the Bishop Michael Mulvey, STL, DD of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. 

“A unique component of our film is poetry,” said Ibañez, who is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and wrote poetry for the documentary.