‘Mothers of East LA’ Founder Passes Away

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

An unconventional activist, who made the mothers of an inner city neighborhood a force to be reckoned with, passed away last week.

Lucy Delgado, founder of the Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA), passed away April 11: she was 87.

Delgado was born on Dec. 15, 1924 and lived her entire life in Boyle Heights.

Left to right: Josephine del Pozo, Henrietta Castillo, Lucy Delgado and Amanda del Pozo (Photo courtesy of Mothers of East Los Angeles)

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Fallece Activista, Fundadora de ‘Madres del Este de Los Ángeles’

She is being remembered as a fierce leader who organized East Los Angeles area mothers during the 1980s to fight the construction of a prison in Boyle Heights.

Delgado is credited with helping to create a movement among regular people who were fed up with their neighborhood being the dumping ground for the public projects not wanted in other communities.

“There were weekly Monday night demonstrations … hundreds of mothers along with their spouses and children would march up and down the Olympic Boulevard Bridge demanding that their voices be heard,” states the MELA website, describing the anti-prison protests.

“The women would always wear scarves on their heads as a sign of peace, dignity and respect for their community.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said Delgado was an inspiration to all who fought against the proposed prison in East Los Angeles, including herself.

“Even at our lowest times, her smile and determination propelled us forward. When you spoke to her, she would hold your hand in a firm, but loving grip, a gentle reminder that everything you love you work hard for. She loved her church and she loved her community … she was at heart a warrior for justice,” Molina told EGP by email.

US Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard told EGP that she was “proud to fight alongside” Delgado to stop the prison. “She was a gentle but tough woman… who worked tirelessly to improve our community and set an example of empowerment for others to follow.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Delgado “one of the bright lights of Boyle Heights.” Her neighbors are better off today because of her “extraordinary zeal and doggedness,” he said in a written statement.

“First my faith, then my love for Boyle Heights” was her motto, said MELA Executive Director Diana del Pozo-Mora, whose mother Josie Del Pozo was Delgado’s sister. The two women and Lucy Ramos founded MELA.

“Lucy Delgado was a passionate advocate of community awareness … who fought the environmental injustices in her own backyard,” said del Pozo-Mora.

Monsignor John Moretta, pastor at Resurrection Church, worked with Delgado on numerous social justice issues over the years, including the prison fight.
“We lost a true matriarch, it is a loss not only to her family but to Boyle Heights. She was somebody,” he told EGP.

According to Moretta, MELA received its name quite accidentally.

Over 200 mothers from East LA had traveled to Sacramento to testify against the prison. When someone asked who they were, I responded they’re the Mothers of East Los Angeles,” Moretta said.

And the name stuck.

The battle to stop the prison lasted nearly a decade, but ultimately the residents of East Los Angeles were victorious, said Frank Villalobos of Barrio Planners, Inc, who along with Moretta were male members of MELA. The prison was built in Lancaster.

“With a female head of household leading the way,” and with the help of some key legislators, we successfully challenged unwanted projects in court and through legislation, Villalobos said.

But Delgado and her sister’s community involvement started long before the fight against the prison, Villalobos said, recalling that both sisters had worked at the old Sears & Roebuck in Boyle Heights.

They were heavily involved in the school district and other issues in the Assumption Parish neighborhood, Villalobos said.

Delgado joined Cesar Chavez during his first fast against the use of pesticides on California grapes, recalled Del Pozo-Mora, noting that Boyle Heights related causes were not the only issues Delgado cared about.

Echoing that sentiment, and calling her “one of a kind,” Councilman Jose Huizar said, “Lucy Delgado … worked tirelessly to help others in need.” He said her “deep-seated concern for the health and safety of her neighborhood made her an inspiration to all as a leader of action, change and empowerment.”

Delgado was a historical preservationist and fought against the construction of the highways that bisect Boyle Heights, and changing the name of Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez.

She promoted the Jewish community’s restoration of the Breed Street Shul and the establishment of the Japanese-American National Museum in Little Tokyo. She was a founding member of the Boyle Heights Historical Society and the Breed Street Shul Preservation Committee.

“Lucy was La Madre del Este Los Ángeles, the quintessential proud and loving mother of the Eastside, and, in the words of the Jewish tradition, an exemplary eyshet chayil, woman of valor,” said Stephen Sass, chairman of the board for the Breed Street Shul Project.

Plans were already underway to honor Delgado at the Shul’s annual community event in June, but sadly she will not be at the event, Sass told EGP by email.

“One of my many vivid memories of Lucy was her at age 75+ at one of our work days, sweeping the outside of the Shul and putting the other volunteers to shame with her stamina!” Sass said.

Delgado was a founding member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, Boyle Heights Neighbors Organization, and active in numerous other groups.

During the 1990’s, she fought against Vernon’s plans to construct a hazardous-waste incinerator. More recently, she protested plans for a Vernon Power Plant and the sale of alcohol at a retail pharmacy opening soon at the Golden Gate Theatre.

Delgado supported METRO/MTA’s transportation projects in Boyle Heights.

A street beautification project showcases mosaics made by her and fellow artist Juaquin Castellanos that adorn a section of Cesar Chavez, near Soto Street.

Delgado’s activism was fueled by concern for the health and safety of her neighborhood. She fought against “environmental racism” and took on quality-of-life issues, Del Pozo-Mora said.

She challenged the stereotype that poor people don’t care about the environment, she added.

Delgado is survived by her three children, Robert, Victor and Irene; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A rosary and mass for Delgado were held yesterday, April 18, at Resurrection Church. Her burial followed at Calvary Cemetery.

An earlier version of this obituary was first published at EGPnews.com on April 12.

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April 19, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “‘Mothers of East LA’ Founder Passes Away”

  1. Terry Marquez on April 19th, 2012 9:49 pm

    Just a note to EGP of information: Lucy Delgado was the founder of the original Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA), another group was founded later and attempted to use the same name, but were denied. The other organization that has not been very public for years is Madres de Este de Los Angeles, So please do not confused the two organizations, in the article writen, a common mistake, is translation to Spanish was the name of the original Organization of MELA.
    Baya con Dioz Lucy Delgado, we will miss you terribly.

  2. Paul Spitzzeri on April 20th, 2012 4:26 pm

    I first got to know Lucy a dozen years ago while working with her on the Boyle Heights exhibit at the Japanese-American National Museum and saw her on many occasions for functions with the Boyle Heights Historical Society. Frankly, I did not know about all the amazing work she did for her community. What a remarkable woman and what an inspiration! My condolences to the Delgado family, who lost Lucy’s daughter, Rebecca, just recently, and now Lucy, both of whom cared deeply about and worked tirelessly for Boyle Heights and the East Side. ¡Descanse en paz, Señora Delgado!

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