Although defense contractors were supposed to be equal-opportunity employers, they limited their minority hiring to African Americans. Finally, Mr. Morales made headway with Rockwell International, followed quickly by McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed. The momentum led to agreements with Kraft (still a MAOF supporter), utility companies, and other corporate giants.
William Izabal, director of the Division of People at Boeing North America and a long-time MAOF board member, calls Mr. Morales "the Silver Fox." The nickname draws from two facts: his hair had silver streaks even in youth, and "whenever he went after money, he always ended up with it," jokes Mr. Izabal.
By his own account, Mr. Morales pioneered Hispanic job development because it offered the best chance for consensus-building. "Mexican Americans had a hard time getting together because they couldn't agree what the issue was," he recalls. "But everybody wants a job and better earning power. So I found that was the easiest issue to use to attract people with differing philosophies. …It was the most non-debatable issue."
More than 40 years after the founding of the MAOF, the challenges of fighting stereotypes and gaining access to the workplace persist. "The desire for a better job, no doubt, is [still] highest on the chart," Mr. Morales opines. "I think the struggle now is not just to get entry-level jobs. …Here is this vast community – Mexican Americans are 66 percent of the Latino population – but in the higher ranks [of Corporate America], we aren't there yet."
In his autobiography "Dionicio Morales: A Life in Two Cultures" ($17.95, Arte Publico Press), Mr. Morales recounts how he patterned the MAOF after the Jewish League, a comprehensive human-services organization. Today, the MAOF still works in job training, but 80 percent of its $59.5 million budget goes to childcare programs that enable parents to work.
Carlos Viramontes, an Anheuser-Busch manager who has served 16 years on the MAOF board, credits the MAOF's success to the presence of Corporate America on its board. Many organizations seek corporate executives merely for fund-raising, but at MAOF, the managerial expertise has con-tributed more, since most of the money still comes from government sources, Mr. Viramontes says.
Mr. Izabal of Boeing says Mr. Morales "is one of the few people leading a nonprofit who recognizes the need to have Corporate America active on the board. Most organizations have people who only want their name on a list."
Mr. Morales and his generation of community advocates have left a huge footprint on U.S. Hispanic economic development – one that can't be measured entirely in dollars. Powerful Hispanics who cite him as an influence in their lives include Maria Contreras-Sweet, California's Secretary of Business, Transportation & Housing; Rudy Beserra, vice-president of Latino Affairs at Coca-Cola; and Antonio Villaraigoza, former Speaker of the California Assembly.
For admirers, his soft-spoken style captures the essence of public service. Whether attending a lavish state dinner in Mexico City or meeting with welfare recipients in Los Angeles, Mr. Morales "doesn't put on airs," comments Mr. Viramontes. At fund-raising banquets, "he looks as humble as the cleaning people, but he's just as comfortable shaking hands with the president of the United States." In fact, he has counseled presidents on Mexican-American issues since the Johnson administration.
"He calls us disciples, because we have the same passion to help people that he had years ago," says Mr. Castro, who has worked with him for nearly 20 years. "We just pick up the pieces and move forward…. [But] I don't compare myself to Dionicio."
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