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OBITUARIES | Hortensia Magana, 1937 - 2008

Executive, advocate for Latino workers

July 11, 2008|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Long after she transformed herself from a blue-collar worker into vice president of Diana's Mexican Food Products, her family's $30-million corporation, Hortensia Magana remained concerned with the fate of the working class.

When she learned that hospitals routinely charged the uninsured more than those covered by insurance companies, Magana launched a battle to eliminate the inequity. As chairwoman of the consumer group Consejo de Latinos Unidos, Magana helped spark a congressional inquiry, and her work ultimately resulted in lower healthcare prices for many uninsured workers.

Magana died of cancer July 1 at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes, the family announced. She was 70.

"Mrs. Magana helped negotiate the settlement that ended up changing hospital pricing from coast to coast; it shook the industry," said Kevin "K.B." Forbes, executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos. "She gave a voice to the voiceless: the working poor, immigrants, people who were like her back in the 1960s."

In 1999 she wrote a Times commentary advocating a tax credit that would "permit millions of Latinos -- and many others who share our predicament -- to have access to preventive and routine healthcare."

"Latinos are the fastest-growing population group in America, and we believe our interests are America's interests," Magana wrote.

With Consejo de Latinos Unidos, she helped coordinate the filing of several lawsuits by patients against Tenet Healthcare Corp. in 2003. The group alleged that uninsured patients were charged as much as five times more than hospitals charged insurance companies for the same services.

Magana and Forbes hashed out a settlement with Tenet that included what Forbes called a "fair hospital pricing policy for the uninsured," which is now common in the industry.

"Mrs. Magana . . . did things quietly," Forbes said. "Everything was to help working-class people."

Born in the state of Durango, Mexico, on Nov. 10, 1937, Magana was the oldest girl in a family of 12 children. Her father owned a ranch and ran a store in the town of Nombre de Dios.

Magana moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s. She worked at a Mexican food company, where she met the man who would become her husband -- Samuel Magana -- and at Teledyne, an aerospace firm. But her mind was on the marketplace, and soon she found a niche.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many supermarkets did not carry the kinds of spices and other products used to cook authentic Mexican food. In 1972 Magana and her husband purchased a small grocery store in Gardena, named it after their first daughter, and stocked it with those hard-to-find food products.

In 1973 the couple expanded and bought a tortilla plant in Maywood, followed by restaurants, a bakery, two more tortilla factories and a commissary. The company employs a workforce of more than 300.

Magana traveled to Mexico often to purchase goods, and was proud of her heritage. She was driven, and undeterred by sexism in the world of business.

"There weren't a lot of women in that field," said her daughter Tensha Magana-Berry of West Hollywood. "But she was a strong woman. . . . She was on the go, and we were on the go with her."

In Los Angeles, Magana volunteered with several organizations. She was a founding member of Hispanics for the Los Angeles Opera and, from 1984 to 2006, served as executive director and public relations director of Comite Mexicano Civico Patriotico, which organizes the Mexican Independence Parade in East Los Angeles.

Magana's philanthropy extended across the border. She provided many forms of assistance to Mexicans, including help for disabled children and their families. Last year the state of Durango named her "woman of the year," said her son Samuel Magana Jr.

"Both my parents came to this country speaking not a word of English . . . and they were able to succeed," he said. "They always had high expectations of us and the family."

In addition to her son, daughter and husband, Magana's survivors include her mother, Maria Murillo de Rodriguez of Carson; another daughter, Diana Magana-Haagen of Malibu; seven grandchildren; six brothers; and five sisters.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. today at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, 1050 West 163rd St., Gardena.

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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com

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