Tribute to the life of Armando Navarro – Chicano scholar, activist and leader – Press Enterprise

The Inland Empire has lost an important scholar and activist. Armando Navarro, a retired professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside, died of a heart attack on March 25, 2022. He was 80 years old.

Navarro, a professor emeritus in UCR’s Department of Ethnic Studies, was a political scientist by training – he earned a doctorate. in political science from UCR in 1974. He became the first full-time faculty member of Chicano studies in the Department of Ethnic Studies when he began teaching at UCR in 1992; he retired in 2015.

Navarro was an organic intellectual – a person with natural connections to a social group, who articulates that group’s interests and gives it self-awareness. He used his gift for analysis and his position as a teacher to educate, lead and organize Latinos in the Inland Empire and beyond.

Navarro has played a vital role on campus and in the community. During his academic career he published seven and completed an eighth before his death. His early work focused on the origins, growth, and eventual collapse of Chicano movement organizations such as the Mexican American Youth Organization and the Raza Unida party. In the mid-2000s, he focused on Mexican American political strategy and immigration policy. His latest works have developed a critique of global capitalism: its social and economic polarizing effects and its implications for Mexican and Latin American politics in the 21st century. Navarro approached this work as a political scientist drawing on historical and autobiographical frameworks and analyses.

Born in 1941 and raised in what is now Rancho Cucamonga – then a small Mexican barrio – Navarro witnessed mass deportations, repression for speaking Spanish and blatant racism. He was a lieutenant in the US Army and one of the founders of the Raza Unida party in California. As early as the 1980s, he organized against Border Patrol raids in the Inland Empire, also organizing counter-protests when the KKK marched in Fontana during the same decade. In the early 2000s, he faced off against the Minutemen, a vigilante border patrol group whose reach stretched across the border into the Inland Empire. The Minutemen, along with other far-right groups, targeted and threatened Navarro, but he never backed down.

Navarro was a tireless advocate for Latino and immigrant rights, organizing and mobilizing both students and community members. Perhaps most notably, Navarro hosted a national summit in Riverside in 2006, when the Sensenbrenner Bill, which among other extreme measures would have made it a crime to be undocumented, passed the 109th House. representatives. Various immigrant rights leaders from Arizona, Illinois, Texas, New York and California met to discuss and strategize how to respond to the bill. At that summit, the movement’s leaders ultimately planned the immigrant rights protests in the spring of 2006, which became the largest peaceful marches of their kind across the United States.

Without the use of social media, government or corporate funding – and without abandoning the critical ethos he carried from his days as a brown beret, Navarro exercised critical leadership to articulate a national platform for unity and action among Latinos during this crucial time. moment.

Navarro was also a Chicano internationalist. He organized several delegations to Cuba and Venezuela. During the Zapatista uprising in Mexico in the 1990s, Navarro organized a delegation of UCR students and Inland Empire leaders to meet with Subcomandante Marcos.

Navarro was successful in developing this kind of politics in the 1990s when the Inland Empire was a different place. The population was almost half of what it is today. It was nearly 70% white, Republican, and an epicenter of anti-immigrant violence. It was also a time when there were few elected Latinos and students were leaving area high schools to protest Proposition 187, another anti-immigrant effort to bar undocumented residents from accessing services. social.

Latinos now make up more than 50% of the interior region. The organizing tactics of the Chicano movement gave way to the more traditional forms of political action that Navarro increasingly criticized. Latino elected officials are now part of the landscape from the Coachella Valley to the Jurupa Valley. Grassroots self-organization has largely given way to nonprofit organizations and foundation-led activism.

Although he was often misunderstood and sometimes shunned by the new generation of Latino teachers, Navarro left an important legacy. He bridged his scholarly publications with community work, as envisioned in the philosophical documents that guided Chicano curricula. He played a pivotal role in politicizing the generations that preceded him and laid the foundation for the Inland Empire to become the emerging heartland of Latino Southern California. Inspired by him, many of his students and young activists have become journalists, lawyers, professors and elected officials in the region.

Navarro’s legacy is firmly sealed as the most important Chicano leader of his generation in the Inland Empire.

Alfonso Gonzáles Toribio is the director of the UC Riverside Latin American Studies Research Center. Jennifer R. Nájera is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside.

Edward K. Thompson