News Column

Remembering Dionicio Morales

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Dionicio Morales, one of the heroes in the U.S. Hispanic civil rights movement, passed away Wednesday at the age of 89. Mr. Morales will long be remembered as the founder of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MOAF), which remains the largest Hispanic nonprofit in the nation.

Please note:

A public memorial will be held Friday, October 3rd. Location and time is forthcoming on Monday.

If you wish to honor Mr. Morales' memory, in lieu of flowers please send donations to:

The Dionicio Morales Foundation, Phone (323) 225-4241. Fax (323) 968-4097.


The Dionicio Morales Destiny Scholarship Fund, for students in Ventura County, 1317 Del Norte, Suite 150, Camarillo, CA 93010

Click here to view video of Hispanic Business Media's 2006 interview at Dionicio Morales' home

Mr. Morales touched many people during his lifetime. Here are just a few of those whose lives and careers he inspired and sometimes helped shape.

GLORIA MOLINA, Los Angeles County Supervisor

It was very, very sad to learn of Dionicio Morales' passing. I knew him for a long time. I remember listening to him when I was a 20-21 year old. We weren't sure that he was the kind of person that we as activists should trust. After all, he was an 'older' man, 35 or 40. When you're 20, you don't really trust anybody over 30. We were part of the activist student movement, the Chicano movement. We came to learn he was a man who everyone could trust, all the time.

"It was always fascinating to see a man who articulated goals that I really cared about - empowering our community. He didn't just talk about it. He had a real program that helped people get basic skills to become independent. He talked about how important it was to have a job; really basic things for people. Later, as an elected official, I got to know him on a very different level. He was very respectful to me while being very, very persistent about doing new and innovative things. He would always say, 'Supervisor, I would like to meet with you.' And every time he came in he had a different idea, and it was always on the mark about things that we needed to do in the community and how the larger community was disrespecting us.

"His leadership was pervasive in the community. The fingerprint that he left on everyone is very significant. He was a powerful speaker, a passionate guy. I remember the last time I heard him speak he was in his wheel chair. But once he got up to the microphone, his booming voice carried such a personal passion about the confidence he had in our community. He said, 'I am very, very hopeful because I know that at the end of the day, this community is going to stand up and we are going to be strong, and we are going to fight. We will demonstrate how truly powerful we are as Americans, as part of this country. It was very patriotic and very inspirational. The best parts were his body language and the strength and power of that voice. He was an amazing man."


"People from all corners of Los Angeles are mourning the loss of Dionicio Morales, an indefatigable leader, an inspirational mentor, a defender of human rights and a great Angeleno.

"Dionicio Morales, an invisible giant who stood out amongst the masses, was soft-spoken in manner, but mighty in his principles, blazed a path for generations of leaders across America to follow.

"Dionicio Morales committed his life to expanding the power of the people. Through his work with the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and decades of community involvement as a leader, Dionicio Morales maintained the belief that civic engagement is the cornerstone of democracy.

"Though we mourn his passing today, we take comfort in the fact that his work and ideas will continue to yield positive benefits for the people of Los Angeles.

"Dionicio Morales, may his legacy live on."


"I've known Dionicio Morales since 1978. One thing he ingrained in me was the issue of being accountable for all the public money given to MAOF - that we needed to set an example for having strong ethics, and never being in the position to be blamed for mismanagement of public funds.

"In 2000 he recommended me to succeed him in his job as President and CEO of MAOF. When I met him in 1978 I never realized that one day I would succeed this legend.

"He was a mentor to me to the end. He was always offering ideas on how to expand the organization and better reach the community.

"There are thousands of people whom he touched. He wanted to open doors in Corporate America for Mexican Americans and he succeeded.

"I will miss him as a leader, a mentor, and a friend. I will remember him as a tireless advocate for the advancement and equal rights of Mexican Americans. He is one of the last icons of our time. In the '60s he helped many of us get started and we have him to thank for where we are today. Our organization will be holding a community Mass for him, and at all of our 40 branches we will gather in a central place and hold an organization-wide moment of silence in his memory."


"I am deeply saddened by the passing of a great leader and a mentor, a personal mentor of mine. I came to the East Los Angeles community in 1977. Dionicio Morales was already a giant figure in Latino communities. Dionicio was a gentleman, a social activist. Literally he was my inspiration and the person that I relied on in helping me organize, at that point the East Los Angeles Barrio Free Clinic. He has guided and mentored me.

"Dionicio always had a certain ability and a gift of being able to understand changing trends and using his political astuteness. He was always correct on the issues, in particular as they applied to Latino communities.

"I certainly am going to miss him a great deal. This community is going to miss him a great deal. He was one of the early of what we referred to as social entrepreneurs -- an advocate and, at the same time, was committed to building a base of support in Latino communities.

"Dionicio was not afraid to speak his mind and address the issues of a given time, whether they involved equal employment, access to higher education and healthcare, or immigration issues. Until his very last day, Dionicio continued to be just a spokesperson on some of the key issues impacting our community. Just a few months ago, Dionicio and I were still talking about how important it was to develop a fair and equitable immigration policy, a humane immigration policy in the United States.

"Another word that can be used to describe him is 'trailblazer'. He is in the same category as Cesar Chavez. He is in the same grouping as Edward Roybal in our community. Dionicio Morales was the trailblazer. It because of him that I continue to build AltaMed to where it's rated by your magazine as the number one nonprofit in the United States

"The things that I remember mostly about him is that he was a tireless leader and advocate for a just and humane immigration policy, fair access and equality in education and employment, just a tireless leader. He is going to be deeply missed. He is one of the great leaders in our community, and to me, he has been a true inspiration."

GEORGE PLA, CEO Cordoba Corp.

"Mr. Dionicio Morales was a true "Trailblazer" in our community. He was very much like Cesar Chavez in the urban cities. He stood alone. Always fighting for people who had no voice. He worked for education and workforce development in the 1970's that set the standard for today. My greatest memory of Dionicio is that great smile and twinkle in his eye as I shared my vision with him of Cordoba Corporation. I thank his family for sharing him with our community."

MARIA CONTRERAS-SWEET, Founder-Chairwoman of the Board Promerica Bank

"Dionicio Morales began with no economic advantage and yet he grew to become one of our community's champion of champions. When we look around and evaluate who our leaders are, we notice in large part most of us have been touched by Dionicio in some way.

"As I think about what he's done for our community, for women, he began to recognize women before others did and began to included us as equal partners.
"When I think about corporate America, so many of us had a disdain for the business community. And he understood that working in a partnership with the business community we could gain more for our community. As it relates to our political leaders, he was able to access the highest levels and inspire people at the grass roots.

"Dionicio will be remembered by all of us, by all of us, as a person who saw everybody as a possibility and recognized the potential we had to offer. He did everything he could to harvest that potential. That is what MAOF is about. He grew it to become of one of the most all-encompassing, nationally recognized institutions for our community in the country. As I said, with no economic advantage, he grew it to become one of the largest family-service organizations in the country.

"Not only is it important for its programmatic success and prowess, but also again because of the qualitative aspects of the programs; he made sure that our seniors were able to connect with the children. He gave vitality to our seniors. He allowed them to meet with the children in the childcare center. So he found something for all the ages of his organization. For the children, he had childcare programs. For the youth, he had training programs for the adults, he had programs to help them improve their homes and gave them a sense of pride. And, as I said, for our seniors, he gave them jobs. And what we all remember is the wonderful, beautiful trips to Mexico. And his sense of pride for Mexico.

"If I had only one thing to say about Dionicio M, it would be that he was proud to be of Mexican descent. And he always told us that instead of marginalizing ourselves and calling ourselves Hispanic or Latino, that we should be proud to be Mexican-Americans. And we shod say it. He recognized that everyone has a talent, but he said remember that there is pride in being a Mexican American, and he always reminded us about the contributions that Mexicans Americans made to the world.

"So he will be remembered as a proud Mexican American. One that boosted all our pride by boasting of the power and the contributions that Mexican Americans make economically, culturally and socially to our country."

Lupe Anguiano, Executive Director, Stewards of the Earth

I have known Dionicio since he started his work on employment. And I always appreciated his strong positions and his efforts. He really is a pioneer of focusing on employment in our Latino community. He started many job training programs throughout the nation. It was a time of recognition, incredible to say this now, a time of recognizing Latinos. Nationwide we were not recognized or known in the East Coast and Washington, New York, etc. Dionicio did a lot to bring a lot of notoriety and explaining our issues and bringing greater attention to employment.

I think one of the greatest tributes we could make to Dionicio was his effective work with employers. He worked so effectively with employers throughout the United States to bring job training that would bring gainful employment to the Latino community.
I salute him for that.

Luis Nogales, Managing Partner, Nogales Investors

I first came to town to Los Angeles some time after law school in the early seventies. Dionicio at that point was one of the undoubted leaders of the Hispanic community in Los Angeles and very much the pioneer in having a very national scope and contacts with people working on Hispanic issues nationwide. He was someone who had a direct line to people in the White House, Sacramento, and the mayor's office. He was an advocate for all the Hispanic community, especially the working people centrally throughout his life. Certainly he was one of the great leaders in modern times of the Hispanic community, like Cesar Chavez, Ernesto Galarza, and other formidable formidable pioneers and trailblazers of the Hispanic community.
He made me feel very proud. He was in many ways a model to people of my generation, a model not only in terms of his dedication to the Hispanic community, but also in terms of his know-how, his professionalism, his ability to move in many different social and political circles. He has left a stellar legacy to the community.

Gloria Romero, Majority Leader,California State Senator and Representative for East Los Angeles

Knowing Mr. Morales was like understanding American history. Not only did Dionicio make better the lives of people of East Los Angeles, he made better the lives of all Americans. He was truly a legend, a pioneer, a fighter for equality and justice, not just for Latinos, but for all.
He lived the American dream. He understood that the Latino agenda is the American agenda, and he did with it a fight for equal rights to education in order to make us equal in this great country. He will be sadly missed, we will be forever thankful for his leadership, and certainly his legacy will live on.

Moctesuma Esparza, CEO of Maya Cinemas

All Mexican Americans, and by extension all American Latinos, have better lives because of the extraordinary commitment of his life to empowering us and overcoming the racism and bigotry that was so pervasive since the depression, which he lived through. He stands with Cesar Chavez, Corky Gonzalez, Bert Corona, and Ed Roybal as giants in our struggle for equality. We are all grateful for his life.

Click here to view a historical photo slideshow of Dionicio Morales

We invite you to share your remembrances, thoughts, and well-wishes for Mr. Morales' family and friends, either in the comments section below or email

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