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Edward R. Roybal Gets Warm Send-Off

The pioneering politician who inspired many Latinos to run for office is remembered for his fight for equal rights.

November 01, 2005|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Serenaded by mariachis and eulogized as a trailblazer by elected officials he had helped inspire, Edward R. Roybal was laid to rest Monday not far from the Boyle Heights neighborhood where he began his political career more than half a century ago.

City Councilman Alex Padilla, 32, told those gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles about how his immigrant parents had looked up to Roybal, who was already in Congress when their son was born.

Harry Pregerson, a longtime judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 50 years Padilla's senior, said Roybal had "inspired many of us to take up the cause of social justice."

Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who presented a flag on behalf of Congress to the Roybal family, said Roybal "was in the vanguard of the struggle for equal rights here in Los Angeles 75 years ago."

As a teenager, Dreier said, Roybal suffered the sting of discrimination when he and other Latinos were prohibited from swimming in the public Evergreen Park swimming pool except on the days before it was scheduled to be cleaned. Roybal worked to get the rule changed. Then, Dreier said, "without bitterness, without anger, but with resolve, he spent the rest of his life" fighting injustice.

Roybal died Oct. 24 at age 89. He left public office in 1992, but his funeral Mass showed the breadth of his continuing influence.

Among the 11 speakers at the cathedral were Latino officeholders he had mentored and colleagues who recalled him as a man of dignity and determination.

"We're here on the shoulders of this great man," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. Speaking first in English, then in Spanish, he rattled off the names of many Latino officeholders for whom Roybal helped smooth the way. In addition to the mayor, the list included Padilla, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, and several past and present members of the Los Angeles City Council.

"He inspired each and every one of us to recognize our power to change the status quo," Molina said.

Roybal's help was key in her successful runs for City Council and the Board of Supervisors, she said. Roybal swore in Molina when she won her supervisor's seat, which he had lost years earlier in a controversial race.

Roybal, a World War II veteran who returned to Los Angeles after the war and began work as a tuberculosis educator, lost his first race for the council in 1947. Two years later, he won, becoming the first Latino elected to the council since 1881.

In 1962, he won a seat in Congress, and over the next three decades he championed legislation and secured federal dollars for AIDS research and other healthcare causes, immigration reform and federal help for the ill, the poor and the elderly.

The services began with a procession from City Hall up Temple Street to the cathedral. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-East Los Angeles), the daughter who followed him into Congress, walked behind the casket, next to her mother, Lucille Roybal, who was in a wheelchair.

Mariachis played and an honor guard saluted the coffin, draped with a U.S. flag, symbols of what several speakers described as Roybal's great pride in his Mexican heritage and his strong love for the United States.

Roybal's son, Edward Jr., a law professor, spoke movingly of growing up in a household constantly full of guests with causes. "Our mother and father shaped our values, including a vision for social justice," he said.

Present in the cathedral were some who had known Roybal for decades and others who said they came to pay tribute to a man they had not known personally but had greatly admired.

Frank Sanchez, an East Los Angeles businessman, met Roybal while in high school. "He was an inspiration to our community," Sanchez said.

And Ernestine Martinez of City Terrace walked several blocks to catch a bus to the funeral for a man she said she had admired for many years.

"He did quite a bit," Martinez said, "and I did want to come very badly."

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