By Rudy Acuña
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
Editors Note: Armando Navarro, who died on March 25 at the age of 80, was known throughout numerous communities and universities as a political science scholar, organizer and activist. His life’s work was dedicated to defending the rights of Latinos and immigrants. He supported and believed in the need for a third-party system and was one of the early founders of the La Raza Unida Party. He was also involved in the fight for redistricting to achieve political representation.
His reach extended beyond the United States as he organized international tours that directly exchanged political conversations. As a professor, he inspired scores of students with his firsthand accounts of growing up in the barrio in Rancho Cucamonga. He shared his personal experience as a US Army Lieutenant and standing up to hold counter-protests against the KKK border patrol raids and the Minutemen. During his academic career, and well known for analysis, he published seven books and completed his eighth book prior to his passing. His published work provided his perspective on the Chicano Movement, the impact of global capitalism and the social and economic polarization of Mexican and Latino politics in the 21st century.
When I was a kid my father told me that I could miss a marriage ceremony, a baptism or even a graduation, but never miss a funeral.
Well, these are difficult times and the pandemic has taken its toll. However, the importance of Armando Navarro is even more relevant. We are a society of critics and rarely think about how our duties increase as a result of our colleague’s death.
Armando was indispensable. One of the few people who was always in motion. He wanted to bring about change. I did not always agree that La Raza Unida was THE solution, but he was willing to put the proposition out there and discuss it.
I hated his conferences but almost always attended them because I knew they were important. Dialogue is essential for the growth of a community.
I admit that I hated attending them because I knew if I was having a feud with someone that person would be there. Armando was one of the first people to practice the “big tent” strategy because he knew that it was the best way to spread the word. The issues varied from the War in Vietnam to redistricting through immigration.
They were about anything that affected us.
It takes a lot to advertise a conference. The venue, the phone calls — and the paper. In recent years he got more effective with the help of his soulmate Mariana, and a core of UCR students. He would make hundreds of calls. “Rudy, this is Armando, we need to organize.”
His first major work was a book on La Raza Unida and Jose Angel Gutierrez, for which I dubbed him Dr. Frankenstein. Until the last he believed in the third party, which many of us lost faith in. Armando was a bundle of energy that sometimes gave people, who did not want to feel responsible for not doing their part, a complex.
Armando would draw on different personas; when the movie “Rocky” came out, he became Rocky to many of us. When demonstrating with Herman Baca in San Isidro, I goaded him into doing a hundred push-ups in front of the aduana crossing into Tijuana. I never visited much with him; he lived in Riverside, in what my mother used to call “El Quinto Demonio.”
The trip with him I remember most was that to Cuba. It was one of the best groups I ever travelled with, and included Gerald Resendez. Many of us were nervous because we were traveling without visas. Armando took on another persona. The Cubans called him el comandante. He started waking us up at five in the morning to do exercises and eat breakfast. There probably would have been a mutiny if his compañiera, Mariana, had not intervened.
I always remember the kindness of Armando, Mariana and Lilia Garcia. I had a diabetic seizure. I was scared to hell. The medical doctor looked like a 19-year-old student. The US blockade had deprived the Cubans of syringes and medication. The care did not cost me a cent.
This year we were not reminded of the ten-year census. We have not met to not glower at each other, but — more important — to talk about the border and immigration reform.
The US is ready to renew another chapter in its war against Latin and Middle America. The bottomline is that the US is an old country and will surely bring in white replacements while continuing labeling those South Of the Border “illegal.”
As Armando would surely have pointed out, we owe it to the people who feed us and fight our wars to speak out; enough of the war on “How the West was Won.”
Armando is dead. So it is up to us to stop complaining and show we have amor propio. So let’s organize, remembering his “big tent” approach.