My father was a very bright man who read
newspapers constantly. He used to show us National
G eographic to educate us about all the different lands to educate us about all the different lands
a nd people and to understand differences. The first
t ime I saw him cry was when they shot President
K ennedy. Both of my parents are still alive and still
a ctive—and still voting.
C ollege was much more affordable in those days.
You could reach and aim for it. All seven of us went to
p ublic colleges.
Again, I was expected to be ateacher, so I worked
t oward credentials as a teacher at UCLA, but when I
w as working for Project Outward Bound tutoring kids
( this was in 1971), I realized that I couldn’t teach these
k ids if they weren”t getting access to a proper education,
a nd I decided to go to law school to change the law and
m ake education more accessible. The following Monday,
I picked up the application for law school with one goal picked up the application for law school with one goal
i n mind: I wanted to be a public-interest lawyer to make
c hanges—andthat”s what I”ve done.
I ”m most proud of being part of change. As a young
a ttorney, I was involved in a case that led to the ruling
t hat doctors can”t sterilize women giving birth against
their will. In my second job, I ran a legal-aid office. In
my third job, I was counsel to the Senate Judiciary
Committee under Ted Kennedy. I spent my 23 years at
on immigration issues, and I’m very proud of opening up
opportunities in the political process, including creating
the seat in which [New Mexico Gov.] Bill Richardson
ran for Congress in 1982. We also improved education
for Latino children, improved the quality of life for
immigrants, stopped the implementation of Proposition
California], and increased philanthropy for immigrants
in the Los Angeles area.
I think the next horizon of civil rights is class. There
is an increase in income inequality, and the economic
crisis we are facing now will highlight this issue
much more significantly. Many of our middle-income
families are one or two paychecks away from poverty.
How do we continue to maintain upward mobility?
Education is tied so critically to this. If my parents
came here today, they wouldn’t be able to do what we
did as a family. The opportunity to get high-quality
public education is a really big issue for society.
Many of our middle-income families
are one or two paychecks away
from poverty. How do we continue
to maintain upward mobility?
Education is tied so
critically to this.
On a more personal level, I find it important to
mentor people. I call my mentees my “kids,” but some
of them are 45 and 50 now. Many people opened the
doors for me. That’s what enabled me to obtain the
access and success. I wanted to be the best I could
with what I have; I wanted to do well and do good,
and I have. I mentor many people now; the obligation,
particularly with minority women, is to help others
find their way.
P resident and gen
of MALDEF from 1 985 to 2004
Now president and CEO of
the California Community
Foundation (since 2004)
National expert in civil rights,
immigration and philanthropy
include the American
Association, California Lawyer
on Presidential Debates,
Institute of Politics at
Harvard’s John F. Kennedy
School of Government, Center
for Talented Youth at Johns
Hopkins University, JFK Library
Foundation Profile in Courage
Award Committee, Council on
Foreign Relations, and UCLA
School of Law Board of Advisors