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In Memoriam: Mario F. Vazquez - November 25, 1946-July 10, 2009

by Nativo V. Lopez of the Mexican American Political Association

On July 10, 2009, the labor and civil rights community was saddened by the passing of a dynamic and courageous Labor Attorney, Activist, and Father Mario F. Vazquez.

Mario Fernando Vazquez was born and raised during his first 15 years in Mexico City and migrated to Los Angeles in late 1961 with his parents, Fernando and Lourdes Vazquez, and his brothers Armando, Antonio and Fernando. Brothers Federico, Edmundo and Robert were then born in the US during the 1960's, and grandmother Luz joined the family in the 1970's.

While in Mexico, Mario excelled in elementary and prep school and was nicknamed "El Sabio" ('The Genius) by his 3rd grade teacher due to his quick and often responses in class. A life- long avid reader, Mario often read the same book 2 or 3 times and was admired for his deep knowledge on a vast range of topics, trivia and particularly history and war.

Thus, upon his 1965 graduation from Lincoln H.S. in East Los Angeles, Mario briefly worked for the Gas Company until he joined the U.S. Army in 1966 with a strong conservative desire to fight in the Viet Nam conflict. However, he was never sent to the front lines and served almost 2 years in the Army Engineer Corps at Fort Ord, where his views toward the war began to change as he witnessed and engaged returning soldiers devastated physically and mentally by the war.

In 1969, Mario and his first wife Ramona gave birth to his oldest son Cesar, a Marine Corps veteran and an outstanding police officer with the Anaheim police department. During this time, and now a father and an Army veteran, Mario entered Cal State L.A. as an EOP student at the height of the Chicano movement, and quickly began to radicalize his views, became a student government leader, treasurer for the radical MEChA student organization and finished his B.A. in Business Administration in 3 years.

Mario's transformation during his college years led to his change of career goals and purpose in life. He abandoned his interest to pursue the business field and entered the UCLA law school. He became a Marxist and a leader in CASA, as he followed the footsteps of Bert Corona. His passion for the legal profession grew, he advocated for and became a co-founder of the People's College of Law- an institution that has graduated judges, prominent attorneys like Pete Navarro, and political leaders such as Antonio Villaraigosa, Gil Cedillo, Maria Elena Durazo and Kent Wong.

Mario's absence will be dearly missed by his friends and co-workers at United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), where he worked as an organizer since 2002, and by all who knew him through his work with such organizations as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Paul Robeson Community Center, the National Lawyers Guild, People's College of Law, Liberty Hill Foundation, CASA (Coalition for Autonomous Social Action), the Dr. Homa Darabi Foundation, the World Peace Council, the American- Soviet Friendship Society and other groups.

Mario vigorously defended the rights of immigrant workers, teachers, women and working families in Southern California since the 1970's. He worked and was chairman of the board at One Stop Immigration and Educational Center, and later became a partner in the law firm Tampkin, Goodman, Vazquez & Sarin where he emphasized immigration and labor law. Mario later worked with respected immigration lawyer and immigrant rights activist Steven Hollopeter.

Mario collaborated with numerous leaders in the Latino community including Bert Corona, Antonio and Javier Rodriguez, Antonio Villaraigosa, and non-Latino leaders as well. Mario left the practice of law to devote himself full-time to labor organizing because, as UTLA co-worker Rosemary Lee recalls, he felt he "could do a lot more for people as an organizer than as a lawyer."

Mario became politicized at Cal State Los Angeles. As a student, he was arrested and beaten during a peaceful demonstrating at the Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. Soon after completing his B.A. in Business he abandoned the field and went on to graduate from UCLA Law School. He devoted himself to defending the interests of the Latino community and all working people.

"Mario was a fountain of information and inspiration in the defense of immigrant's rights", said Bill Steiner, a former Los Angeles Director of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF). As a lawyer, Mario participated in the activities of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, and was a co- founder of People's College of Law.

Mario, was an internationalist by reason of his travels and political perspectives, he always maintained a sharp sense of humor and loved "Teriyaki tacos". Mario was committed to an international view of human rights, and became an expert on the immigrant workforce in the Los Angeles garment industry, having worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and wrote a history of the immigrant workforce in the Los Angeles garment industry.

Mario opposed the Simpson-Rodino bill, particularly the "employer sanctions" provisions, as anti-worker, at a time when much of organized labor felt undocumented workers were a drain on organized labor and should be deported. Mario's work helped persuade labor leaders, including Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers' Union (UFW), to reverse their positions and adopt a policy of organizing undocumented workers and demanding that government agencies enforce minimum wage, labor standards and the right to organize into unions.

Mario served as co-founder, attorney and boardmember to a wide-range of civil rights boards and organizations, including the Dr. Homa Darabi Foundation, where he advocated for women's rights in memory of Dr. Darabi, an Iranian activist who was a victim of fundamentalist religious oppression in Iran. Most recently he helped create the articles of incorporation to Miguel Contreras Foundation.

Mario's work included supporting an end to the blockade of Cuba, and encouraging cultural, scientific and educational exchanges with the island during his numerous visits to Cuba. Mario also co-founded the Paul Robeson Community Center, where he served as a board member and as the Center's lawyer. Jan Goodman, the Center's Executive Director, recalls: "Mario had a special interest in peace advocacy and nuclear disarmament, and rarely if ever missed a peace demonstration." AFT Local 1475 organizer, Rosalva Ungar remembers Mario's support on the picket line demanding fair wages for Head Start workers.

Immigrant rights activist and journalist David Bacon, believes that Mario footsteps left an imprint in the history of left-wing political movements in California: 'Mario was a kind of revolutionary that identified himself with liberation struggles, and questioned capitalism's ability to meet society's needs.'

On his last visit to Cuba this year, the Cuban government offered to provide Mario with free medical care for his terminal illness. Mario was aware of the medical advances in Cuba that may have helped him but he insisted on returning to his work at UTLA. He continued working until he became too weak, and needed to be hospitalized. Mario was a devoted husband and father. He is survived by his wife, Cristina, his children Cesar, Gabriela and Adrian, brothers: Armando, Antonio, Fernando, Federico, Edmundo, and Roberto, his Mother Lourdes, and granddaughter Vanesa and daughter in law Laura.

A Prayer Service/Vigil gathering will take place, Fri., July 17, 6 - 9 p.m., at Forest Lawn Old North Church 6300 Forest Lawn Drive Los Angeles, CA 90068. The Funeral Service location is at Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty 6300 Forest Lawn Drive Los Angeles, CA 90068 on Sat. July 18, 2009, 12 p.m.

The family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Mario F. Vazquez Memorial Fund, Amalgamated Bank, 60 South Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.

NOVEMBER 25, 1946-JULY 10, 2009

About The Author

Nativo V. Lopez is the National President of Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). It is founded in Fresno, California in 1960, has been, and is, dedicated to the constitutional and democratic principle of political freedom and representation for the Mexican and Hispanic people of the United States of America.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.