February 10, 1916: Edward “Ed” R. Roybal was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico
While Roybal was born in New Mexico, he’s closely linked with mid-century Los Angeles history. His family moved to Boyle Heights in the early 1920s, he graduated from Roosevelt High School (like my mom), attended UCLA (go Bruins!) before going on to a long career in public health, community organizing and politics.
In 1949, Roybal was elected to the LA city council. There were some road bumps.
In 1993, Roybal told The Times that at his first City Council meeting [in 1949], he was introduced as “our new Mexican councilman who also speaks Mexican.”
“My mission was immediately obvious,” he said later. “I’m not Mexican. I am a Mexican American. And I don’t speak a word of Mexican. I speak Spanish.”
It became his role, he said, to educate his fellow public officials about Latinos and to pay special attention to what he felt were the long-neglected needs of his largely Latino constituencies. [Source: LA Times obituary, 2005]
In 1962, Roybal moved on from local politics to the national DC and became the first Latino from California to serve in Congress since 1879 (source). He was later appointed to the Appropriations Committee and became an “influential advocate for federal funding for health, education, community health programs and bilingual education.” [Source]
Some highlights from his long career provided by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging:
- Author of the 1968 legislation that established the National Bilingual Education Act to assist schools in meeting the educational needs of children who come from non-English-speaking homes.
- Played an important role in the passage of legislation outlawing age discrimination and fought for benefits and opportunities for those with disabilities.
- Responsible for funding America’s first AIDS research and treatment programs
- Championed the first federal funding for Alzheimer’s Disease and was instrumental in renewing legislation to provide medical service to people with the disease
- Led the campaign to restore funding for programs for the elderly, including a senior citizens’ public housing program and a community-based alternative to nursing homes
- Successfully maintained the Meals on Wheels program and protected veterans’ preferences in hiring in 1982
- Consumer rights defender
- Co-founder of the House Select Committee on Aging, serving as chairman from 1983-1993
- One of the first legislators to introduce legislation to establish a national health plan for the United States
- Founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he served as both president and treasurer
- Founder of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)
I noted Congressman Roybal’s passing in 2005 and wrote: “It’s amazing to think that many of the issues he worked on as a Councilman in the 1950s and then as a Congressman, such as police brutality and immigration, are still problematic. For anyone from LA who has studied the history of Chicana/o politicians, there is no way to avoid the impact of Ed Roybal on the growing political power of Latinos.”
Photo of Edward Roybal being sworn in to the LA City Council in 1949 from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.