Mario Guerra Obledo was born in San Antonio, Texas on April 9, 1932, the son of Mexican parents who had immigrated to the United States in 1915. Obledo enrolled at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 1949, interrupted his studies to enlist in the Navy in 1951, and eventually returned to UT where he graduated with a degree in pharmacy in 1957. He subsequently worked as a pharmacist while earning a law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1960.
Obledo is widely regarded as the “Godfather of the Latino Movement” in the United States. In 1968 he and another young lawyer, Peter Tijerina, co-founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund with $2.2 million from the Ford Foundation and guidance from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Discrimination [at that time] was so widespread,” Obledo later recalled, “I claimed that filing a lawsuit was like picking apples off a tree.”
In 1975 Obledo spent eight months as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School. That same year, Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed him as his state’s Secretary of Health and Welfare. Obledo held this post for seven years, during which he dramatically increased the number of minorities employed by the agency.
After running unsuccessfully for governor of California in 1982, Obledo, a lifelong Democrat, focused on developing his law practice. He also served as president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) from 1983-85.
From 1988-93 Obledo was chairman of the National Rainbow Coalition, the leftist political organization that grew out of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. Throughout his years as an activist, Obledo considered Jackson to be a close ally of his.
In 1994 Obledo was an endorser of the International Peace for Cuba Appeal, which opposed the U.S. economic embargo against the Communist Caribbean nation. Other prominent endorsers and initiators of this Appeal included Philip Agee, Ed Asner, Brian Becker, Harry Belafonte, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, John Conyers, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Falk, Thomas Gumbleton, Teresa Gutierrez, Woody Harrelson, Corliss Lamont, Charles Rangel, Pete Seeger, Martin Sheen, Paul Sweezy, Alice Walker, Lucius Walker Jr., Maxine Waters, Quentin Young, and Howard Zinn.
In June 1998 Obledo articulated his racialist agenda by stating, “We’re going to take over all the political institutions of California. California is going to be a Hispanic state and anyone who doesn’t like it should leave. If they [whites] don’t like Mexicans, they ought to go back to Europe.” Around that same time period, he told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s inevitable that Hispanics or Mexican Americans are going to control the institutions of the state of California in the not-too-distant future. If people don’t like that, they can leave.”
In June 1998 Obledo was asked to comment on immigrant-rights activist Jose Angel Gutierrez‘s observation that “We have an aging white America, they are dying, [and] I love it.” Obledo responded: “He’s a good friend of mine. A very smart person.”
In August 1998, Obledo and the California chapter of LULAC made national headlines when they joined forces to protest the Taco Bell restaurant chain’s use of a chihuahua with a stereotypical Mexican accent in its advertising. According to Obledo, the ads were racist and offensive to Hispanics.
Obledo was outraged when the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) in 1998 erected a billboard on the California/Arizona border reading, “Welcome to California, the Illegal Immigration State. Don’t Let This Happen to Your State.” When Obledo issued a press release threatening to blow up or burn down the billboard, the company that had rented the billboard space to CCIR refunded the organization’s fee and removed the offending message.
In addition to his aforementioned activities, Obledo also co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association and the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations. Moreover, he played an early leadership role with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which works to boost the number of Latino voters.
Obledo died on August 18, 2010.
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