Morales, tireless fighter for the powerless, lost to community

2010-03-14T00:00:00Z Morales, tireless fighter for the powerless, lost to communityErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 14, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Andy Morales will remember countless things about his father. One is that Hector A. Morales Jr. "was just as comfortable with the custodians as he was with the CEOs who came into his office," his son said.

Hector A. Morales Jr., a tireless activist who brought attention to issues of poverty, discrimination and inequality - and who fought entrenched political interests in the name of the powerless - died Friday morning. He was 76.

I spoke with Andy Morales just hours after his father passed away at a hospice on West St. Mary's Road. It was a good chance to remember someone who was a Mexican-American political pioneer during the tumult of the 1960s and who demonstrated principles and helped create a political awakening among young Chicanos.

"What he did was to allow many of us to be who we are now," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who was a young Chicano activist in the late '60s. "He was smart, competent, capable and very Latino."

Morales was born in Tucson on Oct.17, 1933. He attended the old Roosevelt Elementary School, Safford Junior High School and, at the age of 16, graduated from Tucson High School.

Unbeknownst to his mother, Morales joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Company E, which was a Tucson unit primarily composed of young men from Tucson's barrios.

The Corps discovered his age and discharged Morales, who promptly joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in Japan with the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron during the Korean War, said his son.

Morales received an honorable discharge as a staff sergeant in 1954 and returned to Tucson, enrolled at the University of Arizona and started a family with Elsa Jaramillo. They would eventually have five children: Hector III, Debra Gloria, Carlos, Andy and Javier.

Morales found a job in the Pima County Assessor's Office and began his political involvement as a founding member of the Pima County Employee Association.

He also had an eye for design: Morales created the official county seal, his son said.

But the mid-60s was a time of political turmoil and in Tucson's barrios residents were demanding improved services and access to the political structure. In 1965, Morales won a seat on the City Council.

"We were dealing with many of the same issues that we're dealing with today," said Jim Murphy, who won a council seat the same year as Morales.

During Morales' three-year tenure, he led successful efforts to establish fair housing and equal-employment regulations, and eliminate city sales tax on food and prescriptions. He also championed the extension of city water services to the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui tribes.

"He was very passionate. He didn't take no for an answer," said Murphy, who in 1968 defeated Morales in a race for county supervisor.

After leaving the Council, Morales became executive director for the Committee for Economic Opportunity, an anti-poverty program. In the 1970s he became more politically involved, moved to Washington, D.C., and returned to Arizona in the 1980s. He continued his activism, working with the United Farm Workers on health issues and refugee resettlement.

Andy, a teacher in the Amphi School District, said his dad would not hesitate to take on issues and help people who couldn't help themselves or were barred from the process.

There's something else about his father that he will always hold close: "Dad didn't use the word tolerance. He used the word acceptance."

A rosary will be held today at 7 p.m. at Carrillo's Tucson Mortuary, 204 S. Stone Ave., and a funeral Mass will be said Monday at 9 a.m. at St. Augustine Cathedral, 192. S. Stone Ave.

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at 573-4187 or at eportillo@azstarnet.com

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