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Founder of ‘Mothers of East LA’ Passes Away

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

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

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

Read the final version of this obituary published in EGP newspapers on April 19: ‘Mothers of East LA’ Founder Passes Away [1]


Photo courtesy of Mothers of East Los Angeles

She is being remembered as  a fierce leader who organized mothers living in East Los Angeles  to fight against the construction of a prison in Boyle Heights in the 1980s, and as a graceful woman who dedicated her life to improving the local community.

Delgado helped create a movement among regular people who were fed up with being the dumping ground for public projects other communities did not want, such as the prison.

“There were weekly Monday night demonstrations that were held on the Olympic Boulevard bridge in which hundreds of mothers along with their spouses and children would march up and down the Olympic Boulevard bridge demanding that their voices be heard.

“The women would always wear scarves on their heads as a sign of peace, dignity and respect for their community,” states the Mothers of East Los Angeles website about the group’s fight against the raising of a prison on the Eastside.

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 and no matter what else she had to do with her family, her church, her community, she was at heart a warrior for justice,” Molina told EGP in a statement.

“We lost a true matriarch, it is a loss not only to her family but to Boyle Heights. She was somebody,” said Monsignor John Moretta, pastor at Resurrection Church.

“Lucy Delgado was a passionate advocate of community awareness and fulfillment of needs; a tireless community woman who fought the environmental injustices in her own backyard,” said MELA Executive Director Diana del Pozo-Mora, whose mother, Josie Del Pozo, was Delagado’s sister. The two women and Lucy Ramos co-founded MELA .

MELA received its name quite accidentally,  according to Moretta. Over 200 local mothers had traveled to Sacramento to testify against the plans for the prison. While there, someone asked who the mothers were and Moretta responded,  “They are the Mothers of East Los Angeles.”

The name stuck.

The nearly  decade long fight ultimately ended in victory for the residents of East Los Angeles.  It was decided the prison should instead be  built in Lancaster, according to Frank Villalobos of Barrio Planners, Inc,  who along with Moretta was one of the male members of MELA.

“With the help of Lucille Roybal-Allard, Gloria Molina and Xavier Becerra we were able to defeat these projects on [our] home ground by taking them through the process of environmental activism. We were able to challenge the plans in court and in legislation,  with a female head of household leading the way against all these unwanted projects,” Villalobos said.

Delgado’s health began to decline after her sister Josie died in 2006,  according to Villalobos.

The sisters’ community involvement started long before the fight against the prison, he said, also 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 neighborhood located in the vicinity of Assumption Parish, Villalobos said.

Delgado  joined Cesar Chavez during his first fast against the use of pesticides on California grapes,  Del Pozo-Mora said.

She 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.

Delgado promoted the restoration of the Breed Street Shul by the Jewish community and the establishment of the Japanese-American National Museum in the neighboring district of 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 Angeles, 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. said

“Her passing is a huge loss for our community.”

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

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

Delgado supported METRO/MTA’s development and local projects in Boyle Heights.

She  was a talented pottery maker and frequently made gifts for her family and friends. A mosaic street beautification project showcases her talent as an artist. She and fellow artist  Juaquin Castellanos made the mosaics that now adorn a section of Cesar Chavez, near Soto Street.

“First my faith, then my love for Boyle Heights” was her motto, Del Pozo-Mora told EGP.

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, Del Pozo-Mora said. As a leader of action, change and empowerment, she was an inspiration to the community.

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

A rosary and mass for Delgado will be held at Resurrection Church at 9:30am on Wednesday, April 18. Her burial will follow at Calvary cemetery.

Editor’s note: this post was updated on April 13 at approximately 5:30 p.m.