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Pete Moraga, 77; Bilingual L.A. Newsman Boosted Latinos' Image

September 29, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Pete Moraga, veteran Los Angeles newsman for KNX radio and KMEX television who worked to improve the image of Latinos through the news media, has died. He was 77.

Moraga died Saturday at his retirement home in Mesa, Ariz., after collapsing of a suspected heart attack or stroke, said his daughter-in-law, Martha Moraga.

Inducted into the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame in 2001, Moraga was credited with making important strides in preserving Latino culture while providing practical and timely information and commentary in Spanish and English.

"We have come out of the period when it was necessary to lose identity of our language and culture," he told The Times in 1984, recalling that he had been spanked as a child in Arizona for speaking Spanish on his school grounds. "Of course, it is necessary to learn English to survive in the United States, but we don't have to eradicate our own culture at the same time. Basically now there is no way we would want to forget our past."

On air in Los Angeles nearly a quarter-century, Moraga joined KNX-CBS Radio in 1969 as writer, reporter, editor and weekend anchor. In 1970, after the shooting death of Ruben Salazar, he moved to KMEX-TV Channel 34 for 18 months.

During that initial stint, Moraga directed coverage of the 1971 earthquake, whose epicenter was in the San Fernando Valley in a heavily Latino area. Moraga insisted that the Spanish media's primary responsibility was to provide quick and accurate information about what their audiences should do and where they could turn if they needed help.

"We do everything the other stations do," Moraga told The Times. "But we do it in Spanish."

After spending most of the 1970s back at KNX-AM (1070), Moraga became KMEX-TV news director in 1981. Among other major news events, he directed coverage of Pope John Paul II's 1987 visit to the U.S.

Moraga was adamant that his station not succumb to any temptation of presenting the Pope in a favorable light to please its predominantly Catholic viewers, telling The Times, "I don't think our job is to promote the Pope but to cover what a world figure is doing in Los Angeles."

From 1987 until 1990, Moraga delivered a weekly commentary on KCBS-TV Channel 2. He returned full-time to KCBS and KNX in 1988 and remained until his retirement in 1992.

Over his long career, he became as familiar to many world figures as they were to him. Former President George Bush, in a 1991 visit to Los Angeles, evoked laughter from reporters when he said he would yield to a question from "the legend," gesturing toward Moraga. The unabashed newsman shot back, "Could you make it 'living legend?' "

Born in Tempe, Ariz., Moraga studied advertising at the University of Arizona and began his career as a member of the original staff of KIFN in Phoenix, the state's first all-Spanish radio station.

In 1957, he was hired by the Latin American division of Voice of America. Moraga went to Mexico City in 1961 as the assistant press attache at the U.S. Embassy, and from 1967 until he came to Los Angeles in 1969 was press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Peru.

Moraga and his family in 1989 were honored as the California Hispanic-American Family of the Year for community service and family unity.

The newsman is survived by his wife, Gloria; son, Peter Jr.; three daughters, Linda, Gloria and Monica; and 13 grandchildren. Another daughter, Cathy, preceded him in death.

Services in Arizona are pending.

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