Watts’ Arturo Ybarra, the ‘epitome of what a group activist must be,’ dies


Arturo Ybarra, often known as the founding father of the Watts Century Latino Group and for being tortured by the Mexican authorities for his school activism earlier than the 1968 Olympics, died final month. He was 79.

Ybarra died July 27 of issues from pneumonia, in line with his daughter Autumn Ybarra.

Ybarra began the Watts Century Latino Group in 1990 and its purpose was to empower and inform newly arriving Latino immigrants about their rights all whereas encouraging civil participation. The group provided seminars on house possession and group empowerment together with grownup GED and English language lessons to largely Spanish-only talking residents.

Ybarra additionally served as the principle organizer of the first Watts Cinco de Mayo pageant parade. He spent months working with and incorporating concepts from numerous Black and Latino leaders.

The primary parade in 1991 featured civil rights icon Cesar Chavez because the parade’s grand marshal. One of the vital fashionable celebrities on the time, Todd Bridges of “Diff’lease Strokes” sitcom lore, additionally participated.

The occasion was meant to convey Latino and Black individuals collectively at a time when a lot speak concerning South Los Angeles and Watts, particularly, centered on demographic shifts and the conflict between the long-standing however shrinking Black group and the rising dimension of its Latino neighbors.

It was a story Ybarra, a Watts resident, rejected. The Afro-Latino, whose grandfather was born in Africa, believed “within the spirit of multicultural unity,” a motto he usually repeated, Autumn Ybarra mentioned.

“Arturo Ybarra was a bridge builder, a waymaker, a healer, and a foundational beam of our vibrant South Los Angeles group,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) mentioned in a press release.

?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia times brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2F1e%2F0b%2Fcd388b1b470084f57f16614f5dd4%2Farturo ybarra - Watts' Arturo Ybarra, the 'epitome of what a group activist must be,' dies

Arturo Ybarra, heart, poses in March with household and buddies in entrance of a Watts mural that includes his likeness on the correct.

(Frank de Jesus Acosta)

Ybarra is survived by Albeza, his spouse of 41 years, and his seven kids, Nora Ostler, Hector Valencia, Danny Valencia, Sandra Cronk, Cristian Ybarra, Autumn Ybarra and Pahola Ybarra, and eight nice grandchildren.

“I grew up not simply on this household however within the group my father constructed,” Autumn Ybarra, 34, mentioned. “He wasn’t only a loving and accepting father, however a group cornerstone.”

One massive tenet for the Watts Century Latino Group and Arturo Ybarra was working with the Black group.

“He was brave and simply persistent in his efforts to convey the Latino and African American communities collectively,” mentioned good friend Arturo Vargas, chief govt of the Monterey Park-based Nationwide Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officers. “He recognized the widespread challenges they confronted quite than concentrate on what divided them.”

In September 1991, a fireplace ripped via Watts’ Jordan Downs housing advanced, killing a household of 5 Mexican Individuals, together with three kids. Latinos blamed a gaggle of Black neighbors, however police speculated the blaze was much less about racial motivations and extra about backlash towards the household after it spoke out towards a close-by gang.

Initially, some Latinos pushed for segregation of the tasks between Latino and Black residents, however Ybarra referred to as for calm and cooperation.

“We should always keep collectively, work collectively and discover a resolution collectively,” Ybarra mentioned on the time.

Ybarra’s arrival was a breath of recent air for outstanding Watts advocate Candy Alice Harris, founding father of the group Mother and father of Watts, which provides providers to foster households.

“No one had represented the Hispanic group in Watts earlier than,” the 89-year-old Harris mentioned. “He got here and located me and we’d at all times speak every time there was an issue. We shared info and leaned on one another.”

Harris mentioned she was “impressed” with the “mild-mannered and soft-spoken” Ybarra, who disarmed individuals with an unassuming allure.

“Whether or not it was issues with housing or training, he labored via his group,” she mentioned. “Once we wanted to hitch forces, we’d.”

Ybarra’s name for unity resonated with mentee and fellow Watts resident Cynthia Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, the director of Pardee RAND Graduate College’s community-partnered coverage, mentioned she “discovered a kindred spirit” in Ybarra, who believed in unity “between Black and brown individuals.”

Gonzalez attended Watts’ Grape Avenue Elementary College, Markham Center College and King Drew Magnet Excessive College.

“In my neighborhood, Black and brown [people] socialized,” she mentioned. “We listened to one another’s music, ate soul meals collectively, braided one another’s hair, had interracial marriages and tackled issues collectively.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s diploma in Chicano/a research in public well being from UCLA, Gonzalez continued her education at USC with an intent to review and work in Watts.

“Each time I’d ask somebody a query about Latinos or construction or legacy leaders in Watts, I used to be continually pushed towards Arturo,” she mentioned.

The pair met in 2010 and Gonzalez mentioned they spoke for six hours. She was impressed and studied Black liberation and anti-racist actions.

Gonzalez mentioned Ybarra inspired her to proceed climbing greater till she completed her doctorate in cultural and social anthropology from San Francisco’s California Institute of Integral Research in 2014.

“He was actually proud and wouldn’t cease calling me ‘Dr. Gonzalez’ after I graduated,” Gonzalez mentioned. “I used to be at an occasion selecting up trash and he requested me, ‘Dr. Gonzalez, what are you doing?’ He simply needed to honor the work.”

Gonzalez later turned a founding member of the Watts Neighborhood Studio, which surveys residents and enterprise house owners about urgent points.

Family and friends say Ybarra’s drive for social justice began at a younger age.

Ybarra was the sixth of 9 kids born to Alberto Ybarra, a roofer, and Maria Espino. His household moved from Villa Gonzalez Ortega in Zacatecas to Juarez when he was 3.

He was a legislation scholar on the Nationwide Autonomous College of Mexico, or UNAM, when in his sophomore 12 months, he survived the 1968 Tlatelolco scholar bloodbath. Mexico’s armed forces fired on scholar demonstrators protesting the upcoming Olympics in October 1968. The variety of casualties has been in dispute, however ranges within the dozens.

The fear didn’t finish then for Ybarra, who was arrested a 12 months later whereas making an attempt to commemorate the occasion. He instructed relations that he was tortured whereas shut buddies had been by no means seen once more.

He finally was launched and located sanctuary in California, Autumn Ybarra mentioned, first staying with a sister in Moorpark. Arturo Ybarra bounced round Southern California communities earlier than settling in Watts.

His generosity for the group he would name house, “was countless,” mentioned Ivory Parnell Chambeshi, the director of neighborhood initiatives with the mayor’s workplace.

For 30 years, Ybarra’s group supplied meals to a whole bunch of Watts and South L.A. households in the course of the “Navidad en el Barrio” vacation giveaway, in line with Chambeshi.

Round 250 households had been served with two weeks of meals finally 12 months’s occasion, in line with Chambeshi. And never simply any provisions, she quipped.

“They weren’t giving freely canned items,” she mentioned with fun. “Arturo insisted on high quality meals, so he requested for eggs and potatoes and rice.”

Whereas many Watts Century Latino Group applications had been tailor-made for Ybarra’s Latino group, he provided assist to all Watts residents.

“That’s one factor that’s misplaced,” Chambeshi mentioned. “He helped the Latino group, however he additionally reached out to the Black group and actually fought for everybody.”

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn adjourned final week’s assembly in Ybarra’s honor.

“Arturo was at all times within the center making an attempt to create peace, and produce all sides collectively,” Hahn mentioned. “He actually was the epitome of what a group activist must be.”


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