Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Celebrating Latino Pioneers:Edward Roybal

Hispanic Heritage month is the perfect time to remember those brave men and women who dared to go where few Latinos had gone before. Edward Roybal mentored and endorsed many aspiring lawmakers, such as Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

During this month it is important to recognize how far Latinos in Politics have come in the United States, but it is equally important to remember the men and women who paved the way for the current generation. Former Congress Edward Roybal is a key figure in Latino politics and has been an inspiration to the men and women who have followed in his foot steps.

The legacy of this pioneer is still felt and seen in cities such as Los Angeles where several buildings have been named after him. In downtown Los Angeles, there’s the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, and to the south is the Edward R. Roybal Institute for Applied Gerontology at USC. However he is not only remembered in the city which he served but also in other areas of the country. In Atlanta, Georgia the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named its main building after him. This month, yet another building was named after the former legislator, the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center. The center is a high school in downtown Los Angeles that serves a predominantly Latino student body. “Congressman Roybal was a champion for progressive educational issues that directly impacted Latino children,” said Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education President Monica Garcia. “It’s important students be exposed to culturally relevant role models, and Roybal is certainly a figure whose work and legacy we want to remember.”

He is widely considered the first Latino from Los Angeles’ East side to win national recognition. With his election in 1949, he became the first Los Angeles City Council member of Mexican descent since 1881. After he left for Congress in 1962, it would take 23 years for another Latino to be elected to the council. The possibility of a Mexican American serving as mayor as Antonio Villaraigosa does now was unthinkable then.
Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Roybal’s eldest daughter, represents part of his former district. She recalled how during his first few terms on the council, her father faced discrimination just like his constituents.” During that time in our city’s history, Mexican Americans and other minorities were not welcomed in many parts of our city,” Roybal-Allard said. “One can well imagine the reception my father got on the City Council, there was racial slurs and not-so-quiet whispers directed at him and our family when we attended events and dinners those memories remain vivid in our minds even today.” She added, “equally as vivid is the strength and the courage he demonstrated as many tried to humiliate and intimidate him to give up his cause.”

In 1962, Roybal successfully ran for Congress in the 25th District, which stretched from Hollywood through downtown to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. During his three decades in the House, he fought for immigrant rights, education and equal access to health care. He crafted the first bill to provide schools with bilingual teaching programs and in the 1980s advocated for funding the nation’s first research and treatment programs for AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, before either cause was popular. He is also a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus a congressional member organization that aims to address national and international issues and the impact these policies have on the Hispanic community. When it was first formed it had a membership of 5, today it consists of 21 members of congress, including Edward Roybal’s daughter Lucille Roybal Allard.

The school was going to originally be named, Belmont Learning Center but Latino organizations pushed heavily to have the center renamed in honor of the Latino legislator.Many of the campus’ students weren’t even born when Roybal left public office in 1992, and many have yet to learn about his legacy. After classes let out on a recent afternoon, a dozen students said they were given a handout on Roybal and told about his accomplishments at orientation, but none could elaborate much on him.
“I just heard that he died in 2005 and was in politics,” said Julia Bethancourt, a 17-year-old junior. Her friend, Wendy Miron, 17, nodded awkwardly in agreement.

His daughter Lucille Roybal-Allard expressed her desire to have young Latinos remember his legacy,” I hope that when young people see Roybal or Cesar Chavez on those buildings around L.A., that they remember that you can never take the opportunities you have today for granted, because someone before you paved that road.” Having schools named after individuals such as Edward Roybal is a step in the right direction when it comes to maintaining the memory of important Latino figures alive. However, incorporating the history and accomplishments of individuals such as Edward Roybal, into school curriculum’s is the best way that we can ensure that future generations do not forget those that laid the groundwork that has allowed Latinos everywhere to succeed. In addition to learning about their accomplishments students should learn how the efforts of men and women like Edward Roybal have affected their lives and more importantly that they should take advantage of all of the barriers that have already been broken and break new barriers to pave the way for the next generation.

LA Times