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September 20, 2012

Host: José Cárdenas

Remembering Gustavo Gutierrez

  |   Video
  • Gustavo Gutierrez, founder of the Arizona chapter of the United Farm Workers and a founding member of Chicanos Por La Causa, passed away at the age of 80. We'll talk to people about the work and life of Gutierrez, a pioneer of the Arizona Civil Rights Movement.
Category: Culture   |   Keywords: remembering, gustavo, gutierrez, chicanos por la causa, civil rights, ,

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José Cárdenas: The valley is mourning the death of a pioneer of the Arizona Civil Rights Movement. Gustavo Gutierrez passed away earlier this month at the age of 80. Gutierrez, who was inspired by civil rights leader César Chávez and the United Farm Workers Association in California, organized farm workers in Tolleson in 1968 and dedicated his life to improving conditions for farm workers in Arizona. Joining me tonight to talk to Gustavo’s life and work are Professor Arturo Rosales, ASU history professor and long-time friend, and José Cortez, also a long-time friend of Gustavo Gutierrez. Part of your academic career has been documenting the lives of Mexican Americans as well as Arizonans.

Arturo Rosales: I've written books on civil rights in the country. In the summer of 1968, we went to the campaign of Robert Kennedy in California. Of course he was assassinated. We came back and we were told you should meet this guy, Gustavo. I was inspired by this guy. I was a student with a lot of aspirations. He didn’t go to college; go to graduate school and so forth. Here is this guy just organizing farm workers out of his own pocket. He didn't get a salary. He rented some houses and so forth. I came from a farm worker family. It was a great inspiration to us. I took some farm workers down there with me. 1968 was a pivotal year. That was the year in which Martin Luther King was assassinated, the year of the poor people's march, the year of the high school walk-outs in California that inspired the muey biento throughout the country. That was the year we started mas at the university.

José Cárdenas: I want to come back to talk about some of the significant accomplishments, including the founding. But José you knew Gustavo very early in your life. Tell us about that.

José Cortez: I met him in Tolleson.My parents were migrant farm workers working in Tolleson. He was trying to organize farm workers. Eventually my parents pulled me in, and I got to meet Gustavo. At first I didn't quite understand what was going on, but having lived the life of a migrant farm worker child, everything came easy for me. I was able to understand what he was trying to accomplish. The anger started to come out. Needless to say, I became a product of Gustavo's teaching, and that's where I got my start in activism in learning about the plight of the farm workers. Especially on the west side.

José Cárdenas: professor Rosales, Going back to the impact that he had, you were one of the founders. We've got a picture commend rating the founding that we're putting up on the screen. Tell us about that and the role he played. This is the picture I was talking about, and we've got Gustavo there. He's the person in the middle.

Arturo Rosales: It was founded as a result of the activism; of the students at ASU. I was one of the student leaders at the time. And some community people. Gustavo was a person who always helped us at Arizona state university, the students, and inspired us. He and another organizer were kind of responsible for egging us on in 1968. It was what gave masa its impetus.

José Cárdenas: Which is a student organization.

Arturo Rosales: The Mexican-American organization. Somehow we decided, hey, we've got problems in the community. So maybe with a sense of arrogance, we went out as students and decided we were going to organize, but we needed community people like Jordy Lopez and Terry Lopez and Terry Cruz. And in 1969, we started La Causa.

José Cárdenas: Rosie Lopez was one of those people as well.

Arturo Rosales: Rosie Lopez was part of masa. A lot of us were not from Phoenix. I was from Tucson. We had a lot of mining people at ASU. We made a connection.

José Cárdenas: It led to the creation of what has become one of the largest organizations.

José Cortez: It started out as kind of a Chicano movement type. We organized a high school walk-out. Involved in that were many of the people that today have become leaders. Well, they're getting along in years like Gutierrez and Lopez and others, including Gustavo. I went off to graduate school, and Gustavo was still here.

José Cárdenas: He was always involved in labor organizing.

José Cortez: Yes, he was. Towards the early '90s, he had a little shift. He started to get involved in the issues affecting the indigenous peoples, particularly issues impacting the different tribes throughout the United States. That's when Gustavo became part of an organization that started as the peace and dignities journey in 1992. It was these journeys that Gustavo -- that really consumed Gustavo towards the end. He put all of his energy into what he was doing. Actually during that time during him doing this I kept track of what he was doing, and I was really inspired and motivated, and I said, you know, one day I'm going to really focus all my energy into helping Gustavo with what he's doing.

José Cárdenas: And tell us a little bit about what’s involved because it was a major undertaking that you guys were involved in.

José Cortez: The peace and dignity journeys consisted of a journey at one point starting in the northernmost point in Alaska and then the southernmost point. This run takes place where individuals run in one point from the north to the south and meet up in Guatemala. They met up in Guatemala to meet for the ceremony. You're bringing awareness of the plight of the indigenous people and issues impacting different communities. This year we were trying to bring awareness to the fact that water is a life source, that water is important not just to the Native-American community but to the world in general that and water is being polluted. A lot of water is being misused. And therefore we needed to take care of these resources. The prayer was to bring awareness on this issue. As we were traveling, we would go through different villages. Each village would meet us and host us, provide food for us, water, a place to stay. But at the same time it allowed those that were running to feel the energy being generated through this prayer. It's a tremendous, tremendous feeling of spirituality, and this is what actually captured Gustavo is the spirituality of this run.

José Cárdenas: Perhaps it’s irony that he died. He died during this last one. His death occurred during one segment of this latest one.

José Cortez: Actually, I was with him the day that he had the accident. The runners had been dropped off at a certain point in the Grand Canyon to run into the village.

José Cárdenas: And he was supposed to go down.

José Cortez: He was supposed to go down, but he couldn't go with us, and he was supposed to take another route, which was easier. He was supposed to go down in the helicopter, but there was no helicopter available, and he decided to ride a horse.

José Cárdenas: And thus the accident.

José Cortez: That's where he had his accident. Those of us that were there realized this was Gustavo's life and that he was immersed in it and he enjoyed it very much.

José Cárdenas: Arturo, How would you assess his place in the pantheon of leaders in Arizona?

Arturo Rosales: It's not surprising to me that he did what he did in his final years, because he never looked for a job, for example. He always did everything without any great personal ambition. To me, that was the characteristic that I first saw in him in 1968. 44 years ago.

José Cárdenas: And that never changed.

Arturo Rosales: And it never changed. I went off to graduate school and became a professor.

José Cárdenas: But you wrote about the movement, and we're delighted you're here to talk about Gustavo and share his memories.

Arturo Rosales: He's a great figure in Arizona history. In national history, but certainly here in Arizona we should never forget him.

José Cárdenas: And I don’t think we will. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Valle del Sol Profiles of Success Honoree

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  • We'll talk to Terri Leon, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Program Officer, the recipient of the Raul Yzaguirre Community Leadership Award at the 2012 Valle del Sol's Profiles of Success Hispanic Leadership Awards.
  • Terri Leon - Program Officer, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust
Category: Community   |   Keywords: valle del sol, sol, success, virginia g piper, foundation, award, ,

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José Cárdenas: Valle Del Sol, a nonprofit organization that has been providing behavioral health, human service, and leadership development programs to build strong families, recently honored 11 Hispanic leaders at their annual Profiles of Success Hispanic leadership awards banquet. One honoree was Terri Leon. Terri was the recipient for the Raul Yzaguirre Community Leadership Award. Joining me is Terri Leon, Virginia G. Piper charitable trust program officer. I should mention I'm on the piper board but had nothing to do with your selection as a recipient of the award. Give us some background about you.

Terri Leon: Well, I'm a fifth generation Arizonan. I've lived here most of my life. My father is from Arizona. My father is from Yuma. I'm real proud of my father's family. We can trace it back five generations. My great-grandfather happened to be an Arizona territorial legislator in the fifth and sixth Arizona Legislature, and he also was appointed to the first Arizona school board Association. When he was in the legislation, He was chair of the education committee a value he's held all of his life, as well as agricultural committee, because he comes from a family of farm workers. They did farming. Those were two important committees for him to chair because of how they impacted his life. He saw the value of education and passed it on for the last five generations.

José Cárdenas: And passed on specifically to you as well.

Terri Leon: Yeah and also my father actually my grandfather was a graduate in 1901 from the U. of A. My father graduated from the U. of A. and also got a Master's degree. All of us, all of my siblings, have advanced degrees.

José Cárdenas: You put yours to work at one of the leading Human Services organizations in the valley, and that's friendly house. Tell us about your experiences there.

Terri Leon: I served at friendly house as the chief operating officer. I was there for 10 years. Before that, I worked in public education working in high schools with student retention and primarily Latino students. Before that, I was in a mid-management position with Catholic charities. I was in human service my entire career. Serving at friendly house took me to a new level in my ability to really serve the community, working with the staff and working with the community to make sure that we were meeting the needs that needed to be met.

José Cárdenas: And that included becoming involved in the litigation of S-B 10-70.

Terri Leon: During my tenure with friendly house, friendly became the lead plaintiff to fight against the alleged civil rights violations. Serving the community for 92 years at that time, there was no other organization, I believe, in the community that was as well positioned to take the lead.

José Cárdenas: Well, part of friendly house history is serving immigrants.

Terri Leon: Right. It was originally established as part of the settlement house movement in 1920 which the whole purpose was to welcome immigrants into the country, help them with the adjustment process, teach them English, help them find jobs and also work on their immigration paperwork. The organization continues to do that today, so it seemed to me very appropriate that friendly house service be the lead plaintiff.

José Cárdenas: It was all immigrants, not originally focused on Hispanics.

Terri Leon: No, It was immigrants from all over the world.

José Cárdenas: What was the nature of your involvement in the litigation, you personally as a representative of friendly house?

Terri Leon: During that time, in 2010, the organization was going through a period of transition. The former CEO had retired, and I was serving as the interim CEO. At the time was when everything was happening, when the governor had signed the bill into law, and there was -- the organization challenged, along with many organizations -- challenged the civil rights, stating it was a violation of civil rights. It was challenged in the court. At that time, serving as the interim leader, my role was to stand up and speak out on behalf of the immigrants whose rights were being violated. I took that really seriously, José, because we had been serving the community for 92 years. We really earned the trust of our clients that we served, and I really felt that we couldn't let them down at this time when it was so critical.

José Cárdenas: Initially the lawsuit was successful. It got an injunction. Ironically, this week, the injunction's been dissolved and enforcement at least of one critical part of the legislation will go forward. How do you feel about that?

Terri Leon: Well, it's unfortunate. I think it puts more pressure on us now as a community to really watch carefully to document carefully and build a case, if these violations do occur, which I believe they will, we were prepared to adequately defend them in the courts.

José Cárdenas: Now, through your years of service to the Hispanic community was the basis of your receipt of this award and particularly your involvement in the SB 70 litigation. Let's talk a little about the award itself. Tell us about Raul a little bit, and then let's talk about the basis for you getting the award.

Terri Leon: Raul is one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time, I believe. He was the founder of national Counsel, la rasa, a national civil rights organization, and really focused on Latino rights and issues that impacted the community. He retired and, when he retired, he came to Arizona and actually served here at Arizona state university as part of the community development civil rights center. And that center really focuses on ensuring that building a bridge between the relationship with the university and the Latino community, and so they focus on programs like -- that would focus on programs that would recruit Latino students, retain students. One of their top-notch programs is the American dream academy. They really worked with students; reached out to students, brought them to the university, got them exposed to the university in ways that probably they never would otherwise.

José Cárdenas: We've got about a minute left in the show. Tell us what it meant to you to receive this award.

Terri Leon: Raul is a great civil rights leader, and the young lady that nominated me for this position, she was Raul's personal assistant for many years when he worked here at the university and also did work for him when he was with NCLR. So to be nominated by somebody who worked so closely with him, to me that was a real honor, so I really appreciate the vote of confidence. Raul was a great leader, and I certainly don't feel like I come close to filling his shoes. But it was just a real honor in my role at friendly house because I feel, as an organization, they did fill those shoes, and I was very proud to be a part of that.

José Cárdenas: Congratulations to you for getting the award, and thank you for joining us. Terri Leon.