Nativo Lopez, a political activist known for organizing around immigration reform in Los Angeles and Orange County, died Sunday after a battle with cancer, The Los Angeles Times reported. He was 67.
Lopez, who was born in Boyle Heights, grew up in Norwalk in a Mexican American family and began organizing in 1970, when he led a student walkout at his high school to protest racism against Mexican Americans, according to the Times.
Born Larry Lopez, he changed his first name to Nativo and attended Cerritos College and Cal State Dominguez Hills. In the early 1980s, he began advocating for immigration reform in Orange County, where he founded a Santa Ana chapter of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a community service and advocacy organization for Mexican and Latin American immigrants.
As the chapter’s leader, Lopez led a series of rent strikes against landlords accused of failing to maintain their apartments, according to a 1990 Los Angeles Times profile of the activist, and packed Santa Ana City Council meetings with Hermandad supporters to advocate for policies that would benefit immigrants.
Lopez was criticized for his scorched-earth tactics — which included picketing the businesses of civic leaders who voted against his interests — and for his zeal.
“They said that about Jesus Christ, right?” Lopez said in an interview for The Times’ 1990 profile. “They said that about Cesar Chavez. They said that about many people that are maybe headstrong about pursuing rights.”
Lopez was involved in a successful campaign to win amnesty for 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986, and organized to make others eligible for driver’s licenses in the 1990s. In 2006, in response to a federal law that sought to raise penalties on illegal immigration, Lopez helped organize a series of protests in Los Angeles that drew between 500,000 and 1 million people.
Lopez also faced several controversies throughout his life. He was recalled after serving six years on the Santa Ana school board — the recall campaign was led by a multimillionaire who backed a state law banning bilingual education programs in public schools. And in 2011, he pleaded guilty to voter registration fraud after registering to vote in Boyle Heights while living in Santa Ana.
He is survived by three daughters and five grandchildren, The Times reported.
Photo from Hermandad Mexicana via YouTube.