Fernando Oaxaca, an entrepreneur who made inroads for Latinos in politics and business, wrote a well-regarded column on current affairs and helped found the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, died of cancer Friday at UCLA Medical Center. He was 76.
Oaxaca helped launch the assembly in the late 1960s to foster Republican principles among Latinos. A former Democrat, he joined the Ford administration in 1975 as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget. Over the years, he advised four Republican presidents and was a delegate to several Republican national conventions.
His conservative views were reflected in "Oaxaca Journal," the weekly column he wrote for HispanicVista.com, a website he helped start seven years ago to promote discussion of issues relevant to Latinos.
Known as Mr. Republican in Latino circles, he frequently bashed Latino Democratic officials, particularly for their stands on fiscal matters. At the same time, he broke ranks with fellow Republicans on volatile social issues such as Proposition 187. He criticized then-Gov. Pete Wilson and other California GOP leaders in 1994 for their support of the controversial state ballot initiative that authorized drastic spending cuts in healthcare and education for illegal immigrants and was later declared unconstitutional.
Oaxaca "was first and above all else a staunch Republican, who could not be swayed from his mission of bringing the Republican philosophy to the Latino community, and while at it, became one of the most ardent defenders of Latino rights," Patrick Osio Jr., editor of HispanicVista. com, wrote in an online tribute this week.
Known for his broad-ranging intellect and brio, Oaxaca sometimes signed his columns with the disclaimer that he was "a card-carrying Latino and a political analyst who admires honest, fearless Democrats."
"He is a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger without the bravado," Tom Castro, a former business partner of Oaxaca who owns a group of Spanish-language radio stations in Texas, said in an interview Wednesday.
Born in El Paso, Oaxaca was the oldest of three children of Mexican immigrants. He served in Army intelligence during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge before earning a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas in 1950.
He worked in the aerospace industry during the 1950s and '60s, forming his own company, Ultrasystems, before branching into communications and other fields.
His success in business led him to community service and political activism, according to his brother, Jaime.
In the late 1960s, he joined the Republican Party and became one of the five founding members of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.
He later served as the assembly's second president. By 1968, the group had raised more than $400,000 for Richard M. Nixon's presidential race.
"Fernando was the brains of the group," said Martin Castillo, who worked in the Nixon White House and helped organize the assembly, which eventually had chapters around the country and was recognized by the national Republican leadership.
In 1979, Oaxaca founded Coronado Communications, one of the first public relations firms in California to specialize in the Latino market, with clients such as Carnation and Blue Cross. He also co-founded Cruz/Kravitz IDEAS, a national Latino advertising agency.
Coronado Communications was one of three media firms hired by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1988 to publicize the federal amnesty program for illegal immigrants and a requirement that employers account for the immigration status of their workers.
To research the marketing strategy, he undertook some of the fieldwork himself, driving his Jaguar into poor neighborhoods in East and Southeast Los Angeles to knock on doors and test survey questions on the target audience.
That campaign "brought Fernando enormous satisfaction," said Castro, who was his partner in Coronado Communications. "Three million people came out of the shadows and got green cards as a result."
According to his brother, Oaxaca, despite his entrepreneurial success and hard-won prominence in political circles, always dreamed of becoming a journalist.
He began to contribute a column to HispanicVista.com after its launching in 1997 and continued to write until a few months ago, on politics and U.S.-Mexico relations.
Oaxaca led a number of Latino organizations, including the National Assn. of Latino Elected Officials, the Hispanic Council of Foreign Affairs, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and the Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles.
He also ran KNSE-AM, a Spanish-language radio station in Southern California, during the 1980s and '90s.
A longtime Westside resident, he is survived by his wife of 36 years, Bertha, and a sister, Virginia, in addition to his brother.
Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., in Culver City.