Opinion: Voting rights advocate reshaped California politics

California’s Latino community has lost its greatest voting rights gladiator. Today, many of us in politics or those sitting as judges owe a tremendous debt to Joaquin Avila’s lifetime of trailblazing advocacy.

FILE - This Feb. 5, 2009, file photo shows Joaquin Avila, in his office in Seattle. Avila, who for years fought discrimination in the classroom, the work place and the voting booth with groundbreaking success, died Friday, March 9, 2018, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was 69. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Joaquin Avila. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

No one was more accomplished than Avila when it came to fighting for Latino political empowerment and representation. He successfully won landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging discriminatory electoral systems that diluted minority political power throughout California and the Southwest. Most recently, his work led to the current switching by hundreds of California local governments to district elections.

The legendary civil rights lawyer lost his battle to cancer on March 9.

Avila’s fight to empower poor communities arose through his own experience growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Compton, a community primarily composed of African Americans and Latinos in south-central Los Angeles. In 1966, he graduated from Centennial High School as class valedictorian and went on to become one of the first Chicanos to graduate from Yale University in 1970 and Harvard Law School in 1973.

He joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) in 1974. He successfully challenged discriminatory voting systems…


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