A Cal Poly alumnus turned Latino movie star was honored posthumously for his contributions to cinema on Sunday, May 1st.
Pedro Armendáriz was the focus of an event at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo, hosted by the Latino Outreach Council and the Cal Poly Office of University Diversity and Inclusion. The event, which included a screening of the movie “La Perla,” was part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.
Euclides Del Moral, a representative from the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard, accepted an award on Armendáriz’s behalf and said he will connect with the Armendáriz family in Mexico to send them the award.
“He actually paved the path for Mexican actors,” Del Moral said, speaking about the late actor. “He actually crossed over — not only did he thrive in Mexican cinema, but also here (in the United States).“
Award-winning Mexican movie star attended Cal Poly
According to Cal Poly, Armendáriz attended Cal Poly from 1928 to 1932, when it was still a vocational school and junior college.
He moved to San Luis Obispo from Mexico City when he was 16 after losing both of his parents two years earlier, the university said.
Armendáriz studied mechanical engineering at the San Luis Obispo university, where he was president of the Press Club and vice president of the Heron Hall Club, Duel Hall Club and Hispanola Club. He was also involved in the Campus Playshop, a theater group, and an editor for the school newspaper.
After graduating from Cal Poly, Armendáriz moved back to Mexico and was discovered by a Mexican director while working as a tour guide and journalist for Mexico Real, a bilingual magazine.
He starred in several movies during Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema, including “Flor Silvestre” and “María Candelaria.”
One of his most famous movies was 1947’s “La Perla,” based on John Steinbeck’s novella “The Pearl.” The movie, which follows a fisherman who finds a magnificent pearl, was filmed in both English and Spanish; Armendáriz is said to have helped his co-stars with delivering their English lines.
Armendáriz was nominated six times for Ariel Awards, Mexico’s answer to the Oscars, winning best actor Ariels twice — for his work in “La Perla” and “El Rebozo de Soledad.”
In the United States, Armendáriz starred in Western films alongside John Wayne. The Mexican-American actor played Sean Connery’s ally in the 1963 James Bond movie “From Russia with Love.”
According to Univision, Armendáriz was diagnosed with cancer after filming “The Conqueror” in Utah, about 100 miles from an atomic bomb test site in Nevada. John Wayne also developed terminal cancer after working on the film.
Armendáriz died by suicide in the UCLA Medical Center on June 18, 1963, after battling the illness.
Pedro Armendáriz leaves legacy to Latinx students
When Armendáriz attended Cal Poly, he was one of two Latinx students at the university.
It was a time of growing racism and xenophobia against Mexican immigrants, following the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States annually through nationality quotas. The quota heavily favored immigrants from majority-white European countries.
Xenophobia only grew when with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, which led to mass deportations of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans.
“I can only imagine the obstacles that (Armendáriz) must have overcome during his time as a student here (Cal Poly) and his life — his accomplishments are all the more extraordinary,” Philip Williams, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, said during the “La Perla” event. “There is an untold story of incredible determination and perseverance in a context of nativism and discrimination.”
Fernando Sanchez, a Spanish professor at Cal Poly who teaches his students about Armendáriz and the movie “La Perla,” told the Tribune that many of his Latinx students watched Armendáriz’s movies growing up.
Learning about the movie star’s legacy at Cal Poly helps bring new value to those memories, Sanchez said.
He added that racism against Latinx and Mexican students has not gone away and that his students and Armendáriz likely have shared experiences while at Cal Poly.
“When we’re studying this film from an academic perspective, but the subjects and the actors in that movie look like me, now they’re the center of attention,” Sanchez said. “They are considered — and they consider themselves — a worthy subject.”
Source: Cal Poly