Founding the largest Latino human services provider in the U.S., the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), in 1963 Dionicio Morales took it upon himself to let the president of the Unites States know that basic needs like social services, job training, and child care were not being met in the Mexican American community.
During the 1970s, Morales also opened doors for female leaders. Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina recalled being a young activist at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) when she first met Morales.
“We were so anti-establishment. We didn’t trust people. But he was really a man all about empowering the community,” Molina said. “He really believed that every person should have a job, and that once you had a job, you could do anything.”
Over the years, Morales was honored for his work as a leader who, along with United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, U.S. Rep. Edward Roybal and Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar, was a key figure in the Mexican American rights movement.
According to the L.A. Times:
Morales was born October 9, 1918 in Yuma, Arizona. He traced his social consciousness to the 1930s, when Mexican Americans were largely segregated. He grew up sleeping in a tent near Moorpark, CA with other Mexican Americans who worked in apricot and walnut groves. He experienced firsthand the need for healthcare in his community after a tuberculosis outbreak killed several family members and friends who were too poor to go to a doctor. By 1959, Morales was a union organizer in the garment industry.
His daughter, Magdalena Morales, would teasingly call her father Cartman, the bossy, eternally plotting South Park character. Even as he lay hospitalized the day before he died, she said, he was still making speeches. Magdalena Morales, who is working with others on a documentary about his life, said her father lamented that there was much left to do: “He would say, ’I wish my body wasn’t giving out on me. I still want to do so much.’ ”
In addition to his daughter Magdalena, Morales is survived by his wife, Maria, 81; daughter Margarita Padilla, 60; sons Tim, 55, and Dionicio Jr., 39; two granddaughters; and three great-grandsons. A funeral Mass will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. Mariana de Paredes Catholic Church, 7922 S. Passons Blvd., in Pico Rivera. A public memorial will be held Oct. 3, with the location to be determined.