Ernie Garcia, a retired education-school dean at California State University San Bernardino, is a vital supporter of the arts in San Bernardino and a founder of the city’s new cultural center. In advance of an event on how the arts can revive cities, Garcia discussed orchestras, academia, and picking oranges.
What don’t you miss about being in academic administration?
Dealing with 68 Ph.D.s who had the answer to everything in their dissertations.
It’s late at night in San Bernardino and you haven’t eaten all day; where do you go?
Mitla Café. Mitla is a city in Mexico. The café has been around since the ’30s, and has been covered by The New York Times as one of San Bernardino’s finest examples of Mexican food.
What’s your favorite thing about orchestras?
Watching three instruments and the sounds they make, and how that particular composer is using them—the oboe, the bassoon, and the flute.
What was your greatest strength as a performer?
Being scared to death.
What superpower would you most like to have?
A power of analysis, being able to analyze things.
What dessert do you find impossible to resist?
Strawberry ice cream with strawberries in it, then some whipped cream. Do you have any?
Where and when did you learn how to swim?
In the Gage Canal. It had a current, and I tried to swim against the current, so I could be a better swimmer. The reason I learned in the irrigation canal is because in our segregated community in Colton, Mexicans were not allowed to swim in the city pool—except right before they were going to clean it or drain it.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t use their directionals while they’re driving.
What’s your happiest childhood memory?
The happiest time I had was when I was an orange picker. I was 15, and one day in Redlands, we became cieneros, because we were able to pick over 100 field boxes of oranges in a single day. There was a lot of respect from the adults for that.
What’s your favorite book?
Mine: Growing Up Aleluya, which comes out soon. My parents coming across the border in 1920 were befriended by Methodist missionaries. And they became Protestants and we were one of the few families in south Colton who weren’t Roman Catholics.