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Little Joe: “I’m diabetic. Are you?”

When Little Joe believes in an organization, he does not hesitate to become a crusader, advocator and spokesperson for their cause.

This time he stepped up to the plate and is going to bat for the Social and Health Research Center’s diabetes prevention programs.

In the process, he is also not afraid to disclose what other entertainers might withhold from their fans due to fear of losing their status.

“I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes,” the Tejano music mega star revealed via a telephone interview from his home in Temple, Texas.

“It didn’t shock me, but for a month or two I was embarrassed to admit it, but what the hell, this is not worse than people with worse conditions.

“For years, different doctors kept telling me that I needed to bring down my blood sugar levels because I was border line, but that was it. They never told me what I needed to do to control it.

This was a surprise to those that know the living legend who has been a vegetarian twenty years, jogged, did yoga, worked with weighs and lived an overall healthy lifestyle until he kicked back and got a little lax. As for his family, his sister Carolyn has diabetes and his brother Antonio “Top” Hernández died from the disease at 78.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. And Little Joe found out during one of his routine bi-yearly blood tests.

“After I was told I was diabetic and was scheduled for a class, I found out Type II diabetes is real prevalent with children seven, eight and nine and I got real concerned since I love children.”

Little Joe, who turned 69 on October 17, has three sons, one daughter, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“Why didn’t they tell me all this before?” he said. “After the class and after reading “Sixteen Myths of Diabetes,” a book my daughter Christie bought for me, it became a challenge for me. Then by eating proper portions and being more active, my triglycerides, my cholesterol, my high blood pressure and my blood sugar levels all got better, but getting the number controlled is an ongoing thing.

“The diabetes thing became something personal and when José Gallegos, who has been after me to be recognized for my 50 plus years in the business with a gala, brought it up again. I told him I would do it in one condition, that it benefited one organization in order to make a positive out of it.

“That right,” Gallegos added. “He being the humble person he is, said, ‘it’s not about me, I want to do something that is going to impact the growing epidemic that affects the Hispanic community.’ With that in mind, I introduced him to Dr. Roberto Treviño.

“He gave me his book, ‘The Forgotten Children,’ I read it and I knew I wanted to get involved to prevent diabetes, especially in children,” the King of the Brown sound said. “So I made a commitment to raise $100,000 and that’s not an easy thing to do. However, there are people in three different states that want to start Little Joe diabetes prevention chapters. So it’s a national campaign and I will raise that money and more later on.

“The money is important to get the message out, to make people aware,” Little Joe continued. “That’s what triggered this off, when I realized my diabetes could have been prevented had I been informed; and we should all have this information. So you can say that I’ve embarked on a children’s crusade I hope to lead until the day I die – to help the families that are already diabetic and avoid children from becoming diabetic.

Gallegos, now the national grassroots campaign director of the Little Joe Diabetes and Obesity Prevention, said, “Our mission is to battle this deadly disease through education and awareness to promote salud y bienestar de mi familia para su familia (health and well being from our family to your family).

“You know? Every Hispanic has a family member or friend who has diabetes and as a result is on insulin, is on dialysis, has lost a limb or has died, so Little Joe’s organization is an army waging a war to win the battle to stop diabetes.”

Their plan of attack includes media interviews, billboards, flyers and Little Joe speaking out on this subject, at all public appearances.

“I already came up with the slogan of ‘While we can’t do everything, let’s do everything we can’ and I’m also on the point of writing a little book which I’m titling ‘I’m diabetic! Are you?’ Little Joe said with great passion.

“I’m even carrying my personal fight on tee shirts bearing the title of the book because I want all the diabetics to come out and started getting treated. If I’m on a crusade, it’s because that’s the way I was raised – to do for mi raza.”

In regard to health related causes, Little Joe has previously done fund raisers for kidney, heart and cancer organizations, but this is the first health issue, he can personally relate to.

Most recently, the multi-Grammy Awarding winning vocalist risked his career to fight for a cause such as Vive Tejano, which was founded by Frank Fuentes and Rubén Cubillos.

The King of the Brown Sound stuck out his neck to protest the narrow mindedness of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for its devaluation of Tejano music, its culture and its people by taking Tejano music off the main stage. He headlined numerous protest rallies and parades for this organization and the Go Tejano Committee without losing any popularity.

Thirty three years ago, when La Raza Unida was in the process of being destroyed with negative publicity and concerned members asked themselves, “How can we get people to listen again? How can he regain their trust? How can we regain our creditability?” Almost magically, Little Joe and Johnny walked into the room full of LRU members to offer their help.

The issues the then radical King of the Brown Sound associated with were not the issues that everybody wanted to associate with because of the risk to their careers. Nobody wanted to come out and say ‘what can I do?’ until Little Joe came forward.

Then, since his dances drew up to 10,000 people, he allowed organizers to take center stage and address the audience between sets.

So no, the Grammy Award winning vocalist’s stand on diabetes is not his first crusade; and it will probably not be his last either.

On the entertainment side, his latest compact disc – “Live, A Night of Classics in El Chuco” – is selling like hot cakes and is receiving rave reviews.

El Chuco is a casino in El Paso and Little Joe says this is probably “because the people have been asking for those songs for some many years.”

With the exception of “Redneck Meskin’ Boy,” most of his 1960s hits were monaural, recorded in one, two and four-tracks and lack today’s quality. Therefore this production was dream come true for true audiophiles.

Little Joe fans are in for a double treat on Wednesday, November 4 when he will perform many of those tunes during his “Para La Gente” concert for the Social and Health Research Center. The concert will be held in the Edgewood (High School) Theater for the Performing Arts at 607 S.W. 34th Street.

Tickets range in price from $25 down to $15 and $5 balcony seats. For more information, call (210) 533-8886. The proceeds will benefit the Bienestar Health Program so far implemented in 80 schools.