MALDEF Mourns Death of Co-Founder Mario Guerra Obledo, "Godfather of Latino Movement"

With passing of MALDEF Co-Founder Mario G. Obledo, Esq., the legal, humanitarian and civil rights communities lose a pioneer, leader and friend

LOS ANGELES, CA – Civil rights pioneer and MALDEF Co-Founder Mario G. Obledo passed away in Sacramento on Wednesday August 18, 2010 at the age of 78. Obledo was Co-Founder of MALDEF, “the law firm of the Latino community.”

A long-time leader in fighting for Latino empowerment, furthering humanitarian efforts and protecting civil rights, Obledo was currently serving as the President of the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, and previously served as former California Governor Jerry Brown's Secretary of Health and Welfare from 1975 to 1982. As Secretary, Obledo is credited with opening access for positions of government service to countless Latinos and other minorities. In addition to being a Co-Founder of MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, Obledo also co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association and served as National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). For Obledo’s efforts and accomplishments in law, advocacy and civil rights, in 1998 President Clinton awarded Obledo the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the nation's highest civilian award.

Mario G. Obledo is survived by his wife Keda Alcala-Obledo.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, made the following statement on the passing of Mario G. Obledo: "Mario Obledo lived a life of ingenuity, wisdom, and strategic brilliance. He tirelessly and passionately put these skills to use in serving the cause of human and civil rights. Every Latino living in this country owes Mario Obledo a tremendous debt of gratitude. The loss of an icon like Mario Obledo is always poignant, and its effects are long-lasting. Even more long-lasting is the legacy of a leader like Mario Obledo, whose causes live on, reinforced and immeasurably strengthened by his tremendous life of activism."

“We have lost a major leader within the Latino community,” said Joaquin Avila, former MALDEF President and General Counsel and current Distinguished Practitioner in Residence and Director, National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative at Seattle University School of Law. “Mario’s exemplary national civil rights work starting in the late 60s laid the foundation for the promotion of a legal agenda that utilized the judicial, executive and legislative branches of both federal and state governments to aggressively promote social justice for our community. His accomplishments and impact on our community spans close to 50 years. His legacy which includes a prominent role in the founding of MALDEF will be difficult to duplicate. Although no longer with us, he will continue to inspire many of us as we engage in the never-ending struggles to address basic equity issues in the areas of education, employment and political access. Apart from this critical role Mario also served as a mentor and inspired many a law student, attorneys and community activists to pursue a career in the social justice arena. He will be missed but not forgotten. Today we are saddened and grieve over this loss. But, tomorrow and in the coming days and years we will celebrate Mario’s accomplishments and his impact on advancing our civil rights agenda and in securing justice for the Latino community.”

“With Mario’s passing, we have lost a pioneer, a visionary, a pathfinder,” said Antonia Hernandez, former MALDEF President and General Counsel and current President and CEO of California Community Foundation. “Mario G. Obledo touched the lives of countless individuals, my own life included. When I was a young lawyer with few role models, Mario stood before me as a giant. He built two of today’s pillar Latino institutions: MALDEF and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). I continually benefited from his wisdom and his guidance, as he never waivered from his commitment to social justice for the Latino community. MALDEF and the community have lost a gentle giant.”

“Mario Obledo was one of the giants of the formative years of MALDEF,” said Vilma Martinez, former MALDEF President and General Counsel and current U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. “His leadership and dedication to MALDEF at a critical period in its history were exceeded only by his decency and warmth to the people who worked with him. We have lost a wonderful friend and leader.”

"The oaks are falling,” said Thomas B. Reston, MALDEF Chairman of the Board. “The Latino community of today has lost one of its pioneering guides in the long struggle to hold America true to the meaning and destiny of our country. In helping to found MALDEF, he fought to sweep aside obstacles which can all too often block countless Americans, no matter what their background, from being able to contribute to that great work. The nation and California both stand in loss. I mourn his determined and humane spirit."

MALDEF mourns the loss of this remarkable lawyer, activist, scholar, and humanitarian and civil rights leader and icon. Funeral services for Mario G. Obledo are pending.

Condolences and contributions can be sent to:
National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations
PO Box 1026
Sacramento, CA 95812

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund