Mayor and Ambassador Leaves a Legacy of Public Service

LOS ANGELES, CA - MALDEF mourns the loss of Mexican American leader and pioneer Raymond L. Telles. Telles was the first Mexican American mayor of a major city and is credited with opening the path to high political offices for other Latinos nationwide by running the city of El Paso successfully during his two terms.

Born in El Paso on Sept. 5, 1915, Telles served in the Army and the Air Force, serving in both World War II and the Korean War. Telles worked at the United States Department of Justice for eight years. Telles was El Paso County clerk for four terms. Before he became mayor, whites had dominated El Paso politics. He was elected with the support of a grass-roots effort based on registering Mexican American voters and getting them to the polls. Telles' election as the first Mexican American mayor of El Paso in 1957 was a groundbreaking event in the history of El Paso and in the history of Mexican American and Latino politics in the United States.

Telles was a trusted advisor to several U.S. presidents. He was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Ambassador to Costa Rica and served in that post from 1961-1967. In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Telles chairman of the U.S.-Mexican Border Commission. In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed him chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the United States. Telles died on March 8, 2013 in Sherman Oaks, California at the age of 97.

President and General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, issued the following statement in response to the passing of Raymond L. Telles:

"Among the Mexican American leaders whose achievements in elected and civic service continue to make possible our Latino community success today, no one looms larger than Raymond Telles. Elected to lead a major United States city in an era when a mayor of color was scarcely even imagined anywhere in the country, Telles went on to break numerous other barriers through a career of public service in local and national government, and in international relations. The recognition of Latino political power after last November's election can ultimately be traced back to Telles' pioneering efforts in El Paso, Texas. MALDEF mourns the passing of a true civil rights pioneer."

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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